UPS Protection Missing from Hospitals' IT Infrastructure: Report

A survey by Emerson Network Power reveals concerns among hospital IT departments regarding uninterruptible power supply protection, budgeting and equipment availability.

Emerson Network Power's 2010 Hospital IT and Facilities Special Report has uncovered IT management's apprehension regarding budgeting, uninterruptible power supply coverage and access to equipment.

Health care professionals increasingly rely on sophisticated communication and computing technology in hospitals such as electronic medical records, smartphones and tablet PCs. However, there's a fundamental scarcity of critical IT hardware to support this technology-particularly UPSs (uninterruptible power supplies), according to Dan Draper, Emerson's manager of strategy and research.

Emerson markets IT infrastructure products including UPS systems, power switching, cooling systems and embedded computers, along with related equipment racks and enclosures.

"What we're seeing is there's still a lack of infrastructure available to support the IT," Draper told eWEEK.

Without the proper infrastructure, hospitals could be in danger of power failures in the middle of EMR activity. "If I'm a doctor and I can't access that patient's data, that care is going to be compromised," Draper said.

When technology was used at the patient's bedside, more than half of patient rooms lacked a UPS, Emerson reports.

In addition, only 28 percent of operating rooms have emergency power receptacles serviced through a UPS, the report revealed.

"With shrinking IT budgets and rising demand for computing capacity, it's not surprising that health care IT and facilities professionals cited budget, power requirements and availability as top concerns inside the hospital," said Jeff Sturgeon, vice president of marketing and solutions for Emerson's Liebert product line, in a statement. "Although it is a relief to know that those in the health care industry recognize the relationship between power and cooling infrastructure and IT system availability, the lack of hospital-wide power protection in the OR and patient rooms is concerning."

Sturgeon noted that patient data would remain protected in the data center during a power outage, but medical personnel in the hospital would lack access to vital data on IT devices during the blackout.

Inadequate use of UPSs could be one cause, according to Draper.

"It's kind of scary how many operating rooms do not have UPS protection," Draper noted. Generators would take about 10 seconds to fire up, and UPSs provide the bridge to the generator, he said. "Obviously a 10-second pulled plug is devastating," he said.

"A lot of it has to do with redundancy, the ability to handle IT growth and energy efficiency," Draper said. "Because data is being transported wirelessly, I need the same availability inside that hospital as I do outside."

Of the hospital IT personnel surveyed, 32 percent saw their IT networks go down unexpectedly and 29 percent said their data centers lacked redundant power systems or were unaware of their distribution type.

"There's a big problem of data quality during power outages," Draper said. "That's why there's a need for uninterruptible power."

A direct relationship exists between power and cooling needs and reliance on IT systems, according to Emerson. More than half of respondents have upgraded power and cooling systems when they added new VOIP (Voice over IP) services or PACS (picture archiving and communication systems), the survey revealed.

Meanwhile, 60 percent of respondents said that in the next two years they'll add more server and storage capacity in their hospital data centers.

In addition, 49 percent of respondents expressed concerns with the security of cloud computing services and their adherence to HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) regulations.

"It's encouraging to see the utilization of technology to help improve patient care, to improve efficiencies and proper diagnosis; it's a little discouraging to see that uninterruptible power hasn't caught up," Draper said.

The study results, announced on Nov. 3, also revealed concerns regarding the amount of Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements the government will deliver. This uncertainty delays approval of hospitals' IT budgets, according to Draper.

Other worries among health care IT personnel involved the availability of equipment.

"A lot of it has to do with redundancy, the ability to handle IT growth and energy efficiency," Draper said. "Because data is being transported wirelessly, I need the same availability inside that hospital as I do outside."