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Not a Wasted Watt: Running Hospital Equipment in an Age of Austerity

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2015 is a vital year for climate change action. With many scientists saying that we have now entered the Anthropocene era, and this year’s UN climate change talks expected to lay the foundations for a rethink of climate change policy, the state of the planet we leave behind for future generations is more unpredictable than ever.

Many of the Earth’s ecosystems are reaching a tipping point of change from which there may be no return. This is being pushed along by unabated population growth and economic development. Estimates say that, by 2030, we would need two planet Earths to sustain the way we currently live.

June 5th marks the fifteenth World Environment Day – a UN-backed initiative to help encourage worldwide awareness of climate change and to call people to action.

Findings in a recent climate change report put it beyond doubt that the climate is changing under human influence, and warned of the dire consequences — in the form of widespread droughts, floods, heat waves and other weather extremes — if greenhouse gases are left unchecked.

For such dire warnings, the key to energy-saving success might be simpler than you think. The Pulse spoke with Hugh Zettel, leader of the Ecomagination Initiative at GE Healthcare, about how hospitals can change the way they work to be more sustainable. As it turns out, good health needn’t cost the Earth.

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In 2014 alone, hospitals accounted for around 5% of the total energy consumption in the United States commercial sector. The Sustainability Roadmap for Hospitals report has shown that, worldwide, hospitals in 2014 generated 7,000 tons of waste a day. That’s 25lbs per patient.

By getting hospitals’ big-iron equipment, like Computed Tomography (CT) scanners or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) machines, to reduce energy use overnight or on weekends, huge energy savings can be made that are felt from the clinic to the treasury.

“The key for both CT and MR has been the development of energy-saving management software,” said Hugh. “So when the system is no longer in use, it gracefully shuts itself down. And then before the operator comes in the next day, it turns itself back on, ready to go.”

The solution may seem simplistic, but getting machines that use X-rays (in the case of CT) and magnetic fields (in the case of MRI) to turn themselves on and off automatically is a feat of engineering wizardry that has endowed hospital equipment with an ability to finely tune energy use to radiologists’ needs.

“The machine kind of ‘knows’, based on some components that are very temperature sensitive, when you’re done with your last patient,” added Hugh. “For some of our scanners, especially CT, an abrupt power-down could actually damage some of the components, since they need to cool off slowly. But the system is smart enough to look at typical usage over time and say, ‘OK, they typically scan until five o’ clock, so after then I can begin to shut myself down.”

The impact of this fine-tuning of medical equipment may result in substantial savings, and new products that meet the stringent standards set by the Ecomagination initiative are exceeding their targets for lower emissions and higher efficiency. This is especially important in a world where, with certain resources depleting fast, hospitals are being asked to do more with less.

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“Helium [used in MRI scanners] is one of those scarce materials,” said Hugh. “And some of the detectors we use are also made of materials that are scarce. But having the ability to reuse them, to make sure we can harvest and repurpose them, is very important.”

GE is marking ten years of the Ecomagination initiative, which was established in 2005 to set new, stringent goal for sustainability within the company and product environmental and operational benefits that like-minded customers were demanding.

Across the board, GE Healthcare’s products have been meeting and exceeding targets for lower emissions and higher efficiency. In a world where resources are being depleted fast, healthcare systems are being pressed to do more with less.

Far from shirking its responsibility to the environment as well as to its patients, GE Healthcare has developed a portfolio of products that are infused with the Ecomagination ethos. The latest CT scanners, MRIs and ultrasound machines uphold the highest standards of care without wasting a watt.

The +PLUSPAK addresses concern over resources by replacing glass and metal with plastic for packaging contrast agents.  The +PLUSPAK is more efficient, helps to improve workplace safety, and addresses cost savings by being easier to recycle… Read more about the initiative here.

More Information

Ecomagination

GE Sustainability 

World Environment Day 2015

IPCC Climate Change Report

Shattering the Glass Standard