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How hospitals can future-proof their facilities with sustainable lighting design

In order to meet the demands of a complex health care industry, we must consume resources more efficiently. Opting for LED lighting in place of fluorescent or incandescent fixtures is a great start, but there must be ways to continue to reduce lighting’s impact on the environment while maximizing user benefits.

We spoke with Tom Lane, business development director, ambient lighting for Eaton’s Lighting Division, and Ethan Garrett, product manager, Fail-Safe for Eaton’s Lighting Division, to discuss the best ways to approach sustainable design in health care.

What benefits and challenges does LED lighting present in the health care segment?

TL: Back in the fluorescent days, energy usage upgrades for products were required about once every five years. With LED, the product may be upgraded every 12–18 months. This makes things a bit more complex, because everything moves several times faster than it once did. You have to be lean with your inventory, so you don’t get caught with a bunch of old equipment and products. The bigger picture is that upgrading energy usage in LED products leads to cost savings and better performing products, which is obviously a benefit for any facility.

EG: LEDs have given way to the mentality of “smaller, better, faster, stronger,” which gives people the idea that they can fit more things that have more functions, provide more options and offer more control in a smaller product. In a sense, it’s true. For example, LEDs offer sensing capabilities that can be integrated into the light fixtures. These sensors can detect where equipment is, the temperature of the room, the chemical composition of the room and even the location of patients and health care professionals. Facilities can track if a patient got out of the bed or how often a nurse visited a room during a shift. The light fixture can do so much more than just illuminate a room.

There are some limitations on the number of functions you can fit into a certain amount of space, though. For example, a patient bed light might have five functions — ambient light, exam light, reading light, nightlight and chart light — integrated into a single fixture. All of these different functions require their own drivers, controls and integrations, which brings up the concern of thermal regulation. If the fixture runs too hot, the light output and life of the LED decrease.

What can you do to keep up with the evolving sustainability needs of the health care sector from a design perspective?

TL: You always have to be close to your customer. Find out what their needs are, then measure that against your internal capabilities and the capabilities of your technology partners.

EG: It’s all about communication. It’s not a traditional two-way street, but more like a 12-way street. You have to communicate with your customers to find out what they’re looking for, the architect, the specifiers, the contractors and the end users — everyone from the patients who rate the hospitals to the head of surgery or facility manager.

TL: Patients have the option to leave feedback about the hospital on a survey, which is very helpful to us if it’s a product issue, because it allows us to go in and address the problem immediately. Negative feedback can be detrimental for a health care facility, as it affects their ability to generate revenue and receive reimbursements from the government. Luckily, with user feedback, we can partner with the electrical and mechanical engineering teams and the compliance team to design an adequate solution.

How can modern lighting technologies help hospital systems future-proof their facilities?

EG: LEDs have the ability to last longer than fluorescents. The fixtures do not require you to open them up too often, so they withstand less wear and tear over time. Also, new technologies make what used to be a simple lighting fixture increasingly expandable, so you can integrate other connected lighting systems such as WaveLinx or LumaWatt Pro with ease.

Consider a computer, for example. Let’s say you need a new computer today, so you buy a high-quality laptop and it does a great job. A month from now, a new top-of-the-line gaming mouse is released that could take your gaming to the next level. We can compare that addition to the air quality sensor that you add to your fixture down the road to increase the functionality of your connected lighting system. Then, you realize you need a set of speakers for your computer. In our connected lighting analogy, those could be actual speakers, so that you can pipe information or white noise into patient rooms. Soon, you purchase additional monitors to hook up to your laptop, which represent the occupancy sensors you add to your connected lighting system to track space utilization. You can add all of these options down the road to expand the functionality of an already great product, which is how you future-proof a facility. It’s simple to expand and grow when you begin with a solid baseline.