Of the healthcare executives who responded to a recent Trane survey, 96% said they believe that a hospital’s physical environment directly affects quality of care.

Their opinion is supported by researchers at The Center for Health Design who analyzed hundreds of independent studies before concluding that hospitals that effectively control and monitor temperature, humidity, indoor air quality, and other environmental factors consistently outperform facilities that do not.

Hospital facilities directors play a vital role in counseling C-level executives on ways to improve and sustain the performance of hospital buildings as a strategy for achieving patient care,  operational, and financial objectives, and helping the organization achieve its overall mission.

Today’s best high-performance hospitals rely heavily on advanced building technologies and software that improve facility performance, conserve natural resources, and reduce operating costs while creating a better indoor environment for patients, staff, and visitors. 

(See the end of this article for a sidebar on how a physical environment of care study is a good way to identify improvement opportunities.)

System and software innovations drive building performance

High-performance hospitals take full advantage of advanced technologies and software that automate routine processes and equip hospital staff to make knowledge-based decisions.

Advanced, Web-enabled building automation system (BAS) technology is a good example. Thanks to the adoption of industry-wide interoperability standards, facilities professionals can automate, monitor, and control many formerly independent building systems remotely using their facility’s BAS capabilities. Facilities teams can manage major systems in multiple buildings or even on multiple campuses from a single, central location. 

The BAS is also an important tool in the early phases of conducting an energy or critical systems audit, which includes gathering as much information as possible about the hospital’s energy use and the performance of key building systems. An audit can help hospital leaders understand their energy use and identify and prioritize potential energy conservation measures.

In concert with the BAS, today’s best energy management software provides a hospital with unprecedented capabilities to reduce energy consumption, operating costs, and environmental impact. New software options include Web-based applications that are hosted by an energy services provider, reducing both software acquisition costs and demand on the hospital’s information technology infrastructure.

Energy reporting software lets users collect, analyze, and compare energy-consumption data across multiple buildings, units, or floors and over periods of time. Comparisons can also be made against best-in-class industry benchmarks for comparable buildings. 

State-of-the-art financial analysis tools include sophisticated rate engines that enable users to continuously compare actual energy consumption to historical usage rates and budgeted amounts. Sophisticated rate engines automatically evaluate available rate options and take advantage of less expensive utility rates, such as off-peak or time-of-day rates.

Software also can help facilities directors allocate energy costs to various users, including multiple tenants in a medical building. Features that report, analyze, and track energy use data are also valuable for facilities directors looking to justify investments in energy conservation measures or to launch hospital-wide conservation and awareness initiatives.

These kinds of capabilities have become more important in recent years with rising energy costs and increased focus on energy conservation and environmental stewardship, which makes the adoption of a high-performance hospital approach even more appealing. Studies show that hospitals use more energy than any other type of structure, according to the National Institute of Building Sciences.

Hospitals can improve mission effectiveness and total lifecycle performance by designing and operating hospital buildings to meet specific standards for energy and water use, system reliability and uptime, environmental compliance, and occupant comfort, safety, and productivity.


Software tools enhance patient care and aid reporting

Intuitive digital dashboards provide hospital staff with the ability to view, monitor, record, trend, and report data from multiple locations in real time. Dashboards can be customized to meet the user’s specific requirements, including setting up alarms that automatically report environmental and system anomalies and exceptions, enabling staff members to take action before a serious problem or system failure can occur.

For example, maintaining operating room temperatures at ideal levels and controlling moisture and airflow can help patients recover more quickly and prevent the spread of the airborne pathogens that account for 30% of hospital-acquired infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC reports that hospital-acquired infections cost the U.S. healthcare system more than $25 billion per year.

Using sophisticated sensors, BAS software continuously monitors and adjusts heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems, and sounds an alert when anomalies are detected so the facilities team and medical staff can address problems before they can affect patient care.

The BAS also is the centerpiece of a knowledge-based high-performance building maintenance approach, which uses condition monitoring, fault detection and diagnostics, and other advanced technologies to enable facilities teams to predict and address potential equipment problems.

BAS technology and energy reporting software provide hospitals with critical reporting and tracking tools that help create and sustain the best possible physical environment of care. Reporting software enables users to generate reports that can be saved, printed, or distributed via email.

Reports can be configured to meet specific internal or external requirements, including validation of compliance with Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations standards. 

Most healthcare facilities already have the BAS and information technology infrastructure in place to make use of the best energy reporting software, which is often hosted on the provider’s secure network. But many healthcare facilities are not using the full potential of their capabilities.

After interviewing more than 50 facilities directors across multiple industries, researchers at the Platts division of McGraw Hill concluded that most facilities departments do not have the time, training, or experience to take full advantage of their BAS and energy reporting software. The study went on to say that more efficient use of building automation systems could deliver significant improvements in building performance and energy savings. 

With mounting pressures to improve energy efficiency, reduce lifecycle costs, and create a better physical environment of care, healthcare facilities directors are looking for ways to leverage their investment in BAS technology and reporting software.

Many are finding that calling in an independent engineer or an energy services company to help is a worthwhile investment that pays for itself many times over in improved building performance. HCD

Jim Beam is Director, Global Products and Operations, Healthcare, for Trane. For more information, please visit www.trane.com.

Physical environment of care stud
y unlocks improvements

Facilities directors play a key role in creating and maintaining a physical environment of care that contributes to positive patient outcomes. A physical environment of care study is a good way to identify improvement opportunities.

  • Start by engaging an experienced third party, such as an energy services provider, to help gather and analyze data.

  • Interview key stakeholders, including senior managers and representatives of hospital units, infection control, quality, laboratories, human resources, and safety, to identify problems and opportunities.

  • Gather available data, including information from patient surveys, and make first-hand observations of hospital operations.

  • Conduct a critical systems audit to evaluate the condition and performance of heating, ventilating, and air conditioning, and other building systems.

  • Remember to focus on lifecycle costs and savings, not just first costs, because hospitals have a decades-long occupied life.

  • Identify energy conservation measures and other improvements that can reduce costs, improve efficiency, and enhance patient care.

  • Remember that improvements can provide benefits beyond the obvious savings in costs and energy, such as enhancing an organization’s reputation in the community, improving employee morale, and attracting the best available affiliated physicians and employees.