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How to Build A Better Healthcare Environment with Building Management Systems

By Manish Sharma, Vice President, CTO & CPO, Honeywell Building Technologies

Healthcare has been a key focus of global news over the last year. Most of the coverage has been focused on vaccines and preventative measures, such as masks, social distancing and lockdowns, but what about the physical environments where frontline healthcare is delivered? Medical centers, hospitals and surgeries are at the forefront of critical health provision and, as a result, need to be as hygienic and secure as possible to keep both staff and patients safer.

Unfortunately, many of the buildings where care is administered predate the development and adoption of the latest building management systems (BMS). In many cases the current BMS has evolved over time; an amalgam of legacy systems and later additions, assembled piecemeal throughout the years.

For healthcare facility managers it can be challenging to provide the best possible outcomes using existing legacy systems. It’s therefore crucial for healthcare building operators to leverage their existing infrastructure to its full potential, while also determining the best approach to investing for the future.

Conduct an audit of existing systems

With multiple building systems in place, it can sometimes be difficult to determine where to begin. A good starting point is to conduct an audit of a building to check if the current infrastructure is operating at its optimum level and whether it meets the criteria set for modern applications. Industry standards, such as those from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), offer guidance on the creation and maintenance of ‘healthier’ healthcare environments from ventilation, filtration and cleaning the air; they also provide a metric for determining the overall health of a building and identifying areas for improvement.

Hospitals and healthcare facilities have faced significant investment challenges before the added pressures created by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the current situation it’s crucial to make sure that the available systems are deployed to their best effect to monitor and optimize a building’s environment.

Maintaining air quality

Air quality, for example, can have a major impact on the spread of airborne infections, including viruses. Also, when air quality is poor, occupants can experience a drop in productivity as well as health impacts, such as fatigue and headaches. Not what you want for medical staff or patients, alike.

Medical buildings have systems in place to address ventilation, humidity, filtration and pressurization, which all impact overall indoor air quality. However, aging mechanical heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) infrastructure can struggle to maintain an appropriate level of accuracy without proper monitoring. For example, a drop in air pressure risks spreading pathogens or contaminants, so having access to reliable data from an HVAC system is essential.

Building occupants and visitors are becoming increasingly aware of the importance of air standards and, as a result, building owners are looking for ways to deliver better air quality to bolster occupant confidence. The process of updating building systems does not have to involve a full replacement on most occasions. Often, updates can be added to existing infrastructure to improve the indoor air quality, such as the addition of CO2 and humidity sensors or adding software that can receive real-time feedback on building performance and opportunities for improvement, without hugely disrupting operations or inconveniencing occupants; two key considerations for any medical facility.

Leveraging security systems

Taking a deeper look at existing systems like access control and leveraging it in different ways outside of traditional security procedures can help support a safer and healthier environment. For example, using access management to control the flow of people in and around a site or building; a major consideration to support contact tracing and reduce potential infection spreading. Security cameras and connected sensors situated throughout a healthcare facility can provide insight into how spaces are used and identify where and when occupants interact or congregate. These foot traffic patterns can inform settings for a variety of devices – including ventilation and temperature controls – as well as help support compliance to social distancing guidelines.

Connected hospitals have been shown to improve patient care, clinical outcomes, reduced hospital-acquired infections, and operational efficiency through the transformation of data into sequential actions. Many of these goals can be achieved based on an existing BMS (if one is installed) and infrastructure without the need to rip and replace, which is certainly not desirable during the current health alert and budget restraints. Moreover, by helping improve the overall efficiency of a hospital it might be better positioned to conduct elective treatments and address treatment backlogs.

By partnering with a solutions provider who has a proven track record of designing and delivering scalable, future-proof implementations, building managers responsible for healthcare facilities can seamlessly upgrade their portfolios without disrupting the day-to-day function of critical services.

Click here to find out more about Honeywell’s healthcare offerings.