Hospitals turn smarter, greener
Medical facilities seek alternative energy specialty consulting to save cost
By Noh Hyun-giTraditionally, the deciding factors of success at private and midsized hospitals were simple – location, location, and location. However, patients are becoming pickier and medical institutions more budget-conscious.
For example, the Fukushima nuclear power plant failure single-handedly caused awareness and fear of radiation to leap. In hospitals, patients often question radiation exposure levels X-rays and CT scans nowadays.
“The goal of every manufacturer is to reduce radiation without compromising image quality – a solution to become green,” said Park Hyeon-gu, CEO of Siemens Healthcare Korea, Tuesday. The firm, which was launched April 5 in Korea, is a derivative of Siemens, a leading producer of medical equipment based in Germany. Park’s team offers comprehensive consulting for hospitals from conception collaboration with construction firms.
“Turning green is not limited to endorsing safety. It requires a facility to reduce energy consumption and streamline the workflow. This must be planned from the very beginning.” Even the layout of hallways and arrangement of different departments can affect the waiting time for patients as well as the daily travel distance for staff. “So often, these private practices go through a number of renovations because they do not plan ahead.”
Park relies on the international company’s field experience to produce applicable solutions such as training not only to radiologists who read images from MRI scanners but also to other doctors. “By consulting with those such as a psychiatrist, or an internal medicine practitioner who diagnose and treat patients based on the images, we hope to maximize the utility of every single machine in a hospital.” Currently, hospitals seek general consulting firms for management advice.
Incorporating alternative energy is a sustainable cost-saving strategy for hospitals operating on a 24-hour basis. Siemens Healthcare collaborated with the first green hospital in Cyprus, the American Heart Institute Nicosia. By installing geothermal and solar energy generators and wastewater recycling systems, the cardiology unit reduced its energy consumption by 54 percent.
Park’s decision to launch the branch in Korea stems from the unevenly segmented healthcare market. Due to easy access and low cost, patients flock to tertiary care units, not underdeveloped first and secondary facilities. “Many administrators of small size hospitals welcome this initiative because they understand the need for a holistic upgrade to survive.
Park sees the budding medical tourism as an opportunity to brand Korean healthcare _ not only medical excellence but also optimal management. “Korea is where Japan was 20 years ago. Outsiders are intrigued by our products; we need to actively promote ourselves.”
Large hospitals at forefront
In 2010, the Ministry of Knowledge Economy revealed that the 10 top hospitals in Korea used twice as much energy on average than commercial buildings. They are lit up and provide air-conditioning or heating around the clock. The Korean Institute for Hospital Management found that less than majority of 46 hospitals surveyed in 2010 had water saving toilets and taps; five units had a water recycling capacity and four had carbon dioxide emission reduction systems. Glass exteriors common in medical facilities cause significant heat loss.
Fortunately, large establishments have been striving to modify their buildings and operations to reduce energy use. Samsung Medical Center (SMC), which was the most-energy consuming hospital in 2009 (31,728 kgoe) was named the most energy-saving facility in 2010. SMC save nearly 500 million won by installing revolving doors, high-efficiency LED screens, and bulbs and replacing old heating equipment. Seoul National University came in second.
Seoul St. Mary’s Hospital, which opened in 2009 leads in recycling efforts. It installed a combined heat and power plant as well as wastewater and rainwater recycling equipment. It also manages the temperature differently for four sections _ north, south, east, and west _ of the 22-story hospital to maximize the use of sunlight.
Asan Medical Center is switching to low-emissivity glass to prevent heat loss.