How LED Does More Than “Keeping the Lights On”: Sustainability, Financial and Health Benefits of Quality LED Lighting in Hospitals

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By James Tu

The cost of hospital lighting can be staggering. According to National Grid, hospitals in the U.S. spend, on average, $1.67 per square foot on electricity and lighting alone accounts for approximately  15% of a hospital’s electricity budget. For an average-size hospital building (75,000 square feet) that’s an annual expenditure of $18,000, and for a large hospital building (650,000 square feet), it costs $160,000 to keep the lights on. This is one of the reasons why more and more hospital executives are looking at LEDs (light emitting diodes, a semiconductor-based light source) for their facilities. 

Benefits of LEDs on Electricity Consumption and the Environment

Quality LEDs can reduce lighting electricity consumption by more than 50%, virtually eliminate maintenance and replacement costs, and their superior quality and efficiency are reflected in a healthier environment. LED tubes are designed to replace fluorescent lighting, the predominant light source for healthcare facilities today, without restricting future lighting options or the need to replace the entire fixture, which contains mostly mechanical parts that could last far longer than the lamps – thus significantly reducing environmental waste. LEDs do not contain hazardous materials such as mercury and their higher efficiency results in decreased CO2 emissions and an overall reduced load on the energy grid—decreasing the need for fossil fuels.

Quality of “Light” is Important

The light output of LEDs is the closest spectral match to sunlight, resulting in better color differentiation, brighter whites, better color saturation and overall better color vision, according to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Bright light is essential for reducing staff errors and is also important for the safety of patients – particularly the elderly. Easier color differentiation can help doctors and nurses with their examinations and surgeries, while providing a more comfortable environment for patients. Additionally, the light from LEDs provides brighter, white light with more blue content to effectively suppress melatonin during waking hours, according to a study in Trends in Neurosciences. By suppressing melatonin with the right kind of quality light during the day, patients and staff often feel more awake and alert, resulting in increased productivity, improved mood and the cascading effects of healthier metabolisms and immune systems, according to research published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. It is equally important to avoid light at night, especially in patient rooms or for shift workers. 

Energy Focus is pioneering the development and launch of color-tunable LED tubes and switches to provide affordable dimmable and circadian lighting capabilities for existing buildings. This cycle of bright white light provided by LEDs during waking hours and the avoidance of light during resting hours perpetuates a healthy sleep/wake cycle that is crucial for patient recovery, staff efficiency and overall health and wellness.

Flicking in Healthcare Settings Can Cause More Than Headaches

An often-overlooked, yet extremely important feature of lighting is AC power-line induced flicker. Power-line induced flicker (changes in light output) occur at 120 cycles per second as a result of the AC power line passing through zero 120 times a second. While electronic ballast-driven fluorescents made dramatic reductions in flicker from their magnetic ballast-driven predecessors, most other LED products inadvertently reintroduced high flicker rates. Unfortunately, everyone is sensitive to flicker to some degree. For most people, high flicker rates may contribute to headaches, eye strain and fatigue; acute symptoms that may vary from mildly distracting to severely uncomfortable. In a study published in Current Pain and Headache Reports visual triggers such as flicker account for 38% of reported migraines. 

Certain people, such as those on the autism spectrum, experience visual hypersensitivity, where lighting triggers can result in heightened symptoms. Flicker can also induce seizures in people with photosensitive epilepsy, according to the study and recommendation by International League Against Epilepsy. While there are no standards that require lighting manufacturers to remove flicker, IEEE recommends less than 5% flicker to mitigate risks to these populations. Researchers have noted many patients with traumatic head injuries can experience severe light sensitivity, making flicker a crucial concern for lighting in healthcare facilities. 

In addition to negative health effects, flicker can also cause technology to malfunction, creating safety hazards for important healthcare machinery. Flicker can cause a stroboscopic effect, or aliasing, which is a visual phenomenon where an object in motion appears at a series of locations simultaneously. This can pose a hazard with fast-moving machinery or even in robotic surgeries. Other mechanical equipment, such as barcode scanners, may not function under flickering lights. From security cameras to recorded medical procedures, to scanning identification badges or prescriptions, flickering lights can introduce unnecessary and avoidable safety hazards to a healthcare facility. Certain LED products and technologies such as those from Energy Focus are guaranteed to not interfere with medical equipment, while providing added safety and health benefits. 

With the cost savings, sustainability impacts and health benefits that quality LED lighting presents, hospital executives could be enlightened by exploring their options on how to implement LED lighting at their facilities in the most timely manner and realize immediate positive impact on management, staff, and patients alike. 

James Tu is Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of Energy Focus, Inc., an industry-leading innovator of sustainable LED lighting technologies and solutions. James is passionate about technologies that improve environmental, human and business (“triple-bottom-line”) performances.

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