The rising cost of healthcare in Asia Pacific has become an increasing concern for employers as well as the general public, especially for the older generation, or those who are supporting an elderly dependent. There has been ongoing debate, within governments as well as on the ground, on how this cost can be controlled and made affordable to everyone.
But while governments are being lobbied to increase subsidies – a move that will further tax national spending – Schneider Electric believes that hospitals and healthcare facilities can also chip in to help.
These parties can play their part by using energy in a more efficient manner, by making their buildings smarter in order to lower energy costs. Implementing intelligent building management systems (BMS) can potentially generate significant savings on the energy bill.
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With an intelligent BMS, multiple subsystems – from security, structured cabling, IP networks and more – can function as a single cohesive network. This approach helps realise more cost benefits for the facility. Over time, savings of up to 36 per cent of the cost of operations and maintenance can be realized, and these can then be passed on to patients, with the hospital still remaining profitable. It’s a win-win situation for all involved.
But beyond just that, smart hospitals also provide improved control over the environment in every part of the facility, which increases the standard for patient care and creates better comfort for faster patient recuperation.
The key here is to develop a comprehensive energy management strategy. The upfront cost can be reduced through energy performance contracting (EPC). The EPC solves the funding dilemma by guaranteeing that the project will produce enough energy savings to cover the full cost of the project, which is funded through third-party financing.
At the same time, having a comfortable working environment for medical professionals helps them increase productivity, attending to patients faster and more efficiently. With better prices and an improved standard of care, hospitals will be able to enhance their brand, and stand out in a competitive landscape. With Asia fast becoming a hub for medical tourism, overseas patients open up a new market for Asian hospitals and those that stand out in terms of value for money and quality will benefit from this boom.
But how can hospitals become smarter, and more affordable?
The key here, Schneider Electric believes, is to develop a comprehensive energy management strategy. The strategy starts from having simple improvements like building optimization, utility rate reviews, and installation of variable speed drives, which can help with small energy savings, of up to 10 per cent. Beyond that, bigger initiatives such as building upgrades, extensive metering and monitoring of hospital energy use, and creation of an integrated healthcare infrastructure, as well as resource and sustainability planning, can generate more savings – up to 30 per cent - albeit costing more at the start.
That being said, this upfront investment cost can be reduced through energy performance contracting (EPC). The EPC solves the funding dilemma by guaranteeing that the project will produce enough energy savings to cover the full cost of the project, which is funded through third-party financing. As part of the agreement, if the energy reduction goal is not met, then the energy service company often pays the difference out of their own pocket.
Another strategy that will help in creating a smarter healthcare facility is by investing in implementing an integrated building management system. As mentioned earlier, an integrated BMS lets the hospital manage several different subsystems as a single cohesive network, even if all those systems were developed by separate vendors. With integration, each subsystem can be monitored from a centralised dashboard and any inefficiencies can be addressed in real time. By having systems work together and communicate, the efficiency of day-to-day operations can be improved.
Amongst the energy-saving functionality which a BMS can provide includes zone scheduling, a feature that permits defined sections of a building to have HVAC and lighting reduced or shut down on a schedule. Zone scheduling means that a whole building does not need to run at a 100 per cent all the time. A BMS can also optimize temperature and air-conditioning usage to match external conditions and ensure that patients are recuperating in maximum comfort at all times.
At Westmead Children’s Hospital in Sydney, for example, Schneider Electric worked with the facility management to improve round-the-clock system reliability and manage all building subsystems.
Implementing a BMS brought benefits such as the ability for technicians to receive system warnings via the hospital paging network, streamlined control of systems for the hospital’s four-building complex, all which ultimately led to reduced operating costs and more affordable healthcare for patients.
In conclusion, becoming energy efficient is a strategy that should be pursued by hospital management at all levels, as it creates a solid business value for the facility.
It also helps protect the hospital against rising energy prices that could potentially cut into the bottom line. By doing so, the hospital also protects its patients against price hikes, making healthcare affordable to all and boosting the facility’s brand.
Jeffrey Yap is vice president of the buildings business at Schneider Electric Singapore.