The Future of Healthcare Engineering: What I learned at the 2018 ASHE Conference

Healthcare facility and engineering professionals gathered at the 2018 ASHE Annual Conference & Technical Exhibition to network, find new solutions, and learn alongside one another.

I recently had the opportunity to attend the 55th Annual American Society of Healthcare Engineers (ASHE) Conference in Seattle, Washington. As the DCSEU Account Manager for hospitals and medical facilities, with a background in engineering only through osmosis, a few things jumped out at me: 1) the extreme enthusiasm for healthcare engineering, 2) the sheer number of healthcare engineers, and 3) the attendees’ lack of diversity in gender and age.

The engineering enthusiasm was apparent not only in the conversations I had, but in the sessions and presentations. While a significant portion of the conference was focused on health and safety - obviously a very important part of an engineer's time - the majority of sessions I went to focused on making the facilities of a hospital building more efficient, both for the bottom line and for patient satisfaction. They offered insights and practical applications ranging from lighting solutions in childcare rooms to improving the patient experience.

For instance, the Brigham and Women's Hospital Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in Boston, MA undertook renovations to create distinct areas within the NICU to address the developmental needs of each baby. This means an environment with positive auditory stimulation, access to natural light, and adjustments to night-day variations. A lighting expert on the panel ran through the reasons that certain types of LED lights were used compared to others. In addition, the panel addressed how the hospital mitigated construction impacts and minimized the amount of patients affected by the upgrades. Here in the District, at Howard University Hospital (HUH), engineers are also embracing efficient lighting as a means to support health and safety initiatives. HUH teamed up with the DCSEU to install LED lighting on the exterior and first floor of the hospital, which contains the emergency room and its breakroom, hallways, staircases, and back entrance. Staff who work in shifts around the clock have noted positive effects of the upgrade, as the lighting enables them to adapt their natural circadian rhythms more easily.

Immediately following the conference, there was a two-day ENERGY STAR Treasure Hunt, sponsored by Eaton. We were organized into three teams assigned to different parts of a local Seattle hospital (i.e. central plant, kitchen and patient rooms, etc) and identified top energy savings opportunities and presented the findings to hospital staff. It was an interesting and educational exercise, and really helped shed light on the no- and low-cost energy saving opportunities available. I suggest hospitals and other market sectors in the District employ this technique, as far too frequently the small but impactful changes are overlooked.

I found myself engaging in a discussion about the lack of both age and gender diversity represented a the conference. Honestly, I was surprised to hear somebody else bring up what I was thinking, let alone an older male. However, ASHE shed light on the lack of diversity specifically in the design and construction industries by including a well-attended panel titled “Gender and Cultural Equity in Health Care PDC – An Honest Discussion”. This provided an opportunity for participants to talk strategy and engage in open discussion on the topic. With the influx of new technology careers, the un-sexiness of healthcare engineering, and the country’s sneer at vocational training, it is not surprising that there is this gap - but addressing these topics at national conferences and platforms is a step in the right direction. I believe that things can change, both on the engagement and inclusion of all genders to further the appeal and interest of the younger generation.

I'm enthusiastic about working with hospitals and other medical facilities because they have unique energy consumption patterns characterized by high savings potentials: They run 24 hours a day, seven days a week; use more energy-intensive equipment than most other businesses; and must meet high environmental standards, which can be challenging. Experts agree that energy efficiency is an effective way to cut costs and keep quality standards high, and it was inspiring to see the healthcare engineering industry's dedication to this growing need for efficiency demonstrated at the ASHE Conference. 

This post was written by Shannon Gallagher, Account Manager for hospitals and medical facilities at the DCSEU. Contact Shannon if you want to discuss energy efficiency opportunities at your facility.

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