In order to maintain competitiveness and profitability, healthcare systems must balance rising energy costs with increased needs for advanced technology. But is it possible for hospitals to increase their use of energy-intensive medical equipment while also reducing energy consumption? 

Each year healthcare systems spend more than $8 billion on energy, making  them one of the largest consumers of energy among U.S. institutions. The most recent data available from the Healthier Hospitals Initiative reports that hospitals’ energy costs rose 56 percent between 2003 and 2008. 

While the Environmental Protection Agency reports that every dollar saved on energy is equivalent to a $20 increase in revenue for a hospital—or a $10 increase for a medical office building—most healthcare systems have been slow to reduce energy related to their equipment needs. From CT scanners to heart monitors, medical machines account for 18 percent of hospitals’ total energy use. The more doctors rely on sophisticated equipment to help patients, the more a hospital’s energy use goes up. 

Because of this, architects and healthcare administrators need to make sustainable equipment a priority from the start of any project. Medical equipment makes up 10-40 percent of a total project budget, so prudent spending decisions on these items will support budget compliance from conceptual stages through commissioning, while supporting sustainability and energy-saving efforts.


The business case for energy efficiency
In 2009, the U.S. Department of Energy formed the Hospital Energy Alliance (HEA), consisting of healthcare industry leaders who create strategies and tools for comprehensive energy management solutions. The HEA pinpointed medical equipment as one of its five focus areas for energy savings. 

Major manufacturers have listened, developing more sustainable equipment models that balance the competing priorities of improving patient outcomes, promoting patient satisfaction, and supporting increased profitability for medical institutions. They’re investing heavily in solutions that conserve electricity, water, and other resources, regularly adding new offerings to their portfolios and broadening the range of what equipment is available on the market. 

For example, MRI and CT scanners are becoming smaller, lighter, more energy-efficient, and even more patient-friendly. These new machines have lower power requirements, offering energy savings of up to 50 percent compared to previous generations. They also save space, installation, and construction costs, since their smaller size and weight lowers siting requirements, and their improved radiation output requires less shielding for the patient.

Some of the new CT scanners offer up to 75 percent faster scan times, resulting in lower energy costs per patient, as well as a decreased radiation dose for patients. Faster scans also increase patient satisfaction and throughput, and improve staff workflow. 

In addition to imaging equipment, today’s steam sterilizers and instrument washers offer water-saving features and reduced cycle times. New-generation laboratory fume hoods also contribute to energy efficiency by offering LED lighting, motion-sensing sashes, and motors that use less energy and generate less heat.


Assessing current equipment
As a first step in pursuing reductions in medical equipment energy use, current equipment must be assessed.

A medical equipment energy audit can be used to calculate the “plug load” (energy consumption of all medical equipment in service) and to identify older-generation equipment. Most medical devices fall into two categories, both of which must be included in the audit: Major equipment that requires significant amounts of power to function but is only in use periodically, such as imaging and radiation oncology equipment; and minor equipment that uses less power but is in use almost constantly, such as patient monitors and infusion pumps.

Collectively, minor equipment impacts energy usage because so much of it is in continuous operation. 

When deciding whether to reuse or replace older models, the cost-of-ownership of existing equipment should be considered by comparing its energy performance with that of newer models. Potential energy savings could outweigh the initial purchase cost of new equipment. 

It’s important to note that a hospital’s equipment energy savings include more than just medical equipment. Even non-medical products such as under-the-counter refrigerators and ice machines can yield significant energy savings for healthcare systems. Newer models are Energy Star-rated, and can run much more efficiently on less power, saving 20 to 65 percent more energy than older models.


Selecting new equipment
When specifying new equipment, energy-saving features should be added to purchasing and selection criteria as well as to request-for-quote templates. Most manufacturers and vendors will furnish data on potential savings and return on investment, if requested, which helps purchasing decisions and ensures that hospitals acquire the most sustainable and cost-effective models.


Once equipment selections are made, it’s important to collect operations data and benchmark energy savings. These benchmarks are an important part of monitoring a health system’s overall energy conservation efforts and supporting future equipment-purchasing decisions. 

Five years ago, it may have seemed impossible to have a sustainable healthcare facility. Now, that reality is within reach. 

Gloria Cascarino is director of medical equipment planning at Francis Cauffman. She can be reached at