Compliance News: Power Strips in Patient Care Areas

A subject that bears watching is the current concern about stand-alone usb power strip being used in General Patient Care Areas and Critical Patient Care Areas. ASHE/AHA Listserv users saw considerable traffic recently on this topic. The issue stems from a Centers of Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) document (Publication 100-07, Transmittal 27 dated August 17, 2007, entitled Revisions to Appendix PP – Guidance to Surveyors for Long Term Care Facilities) that includes the following excerpt: “Power strips may not be used as a substitute for adequate electrical outlets in a facility. Power strips may be used for a computer, monitor, and printer. Power strips are not designed to be used with medical devices in patient care areas.” Some hospitals are reporting that CMS hospital surveyors have used this LTC Facility guidance to cite them for using power strips (called “Relocatable Power Taps” in UL terminology) in General Patient Care Areas and Critical Patient Care Areas.

It appears that this issue arose because of Underwriters Laboratories’ (UL’s) concern that there are no listed power taps for patient care areas of health care facilities per UL product category “Relocatable Power Taps (XBYS).” UL stated in a March 1, 2008 posting on the International Association of Electrical Inspectors (IAEI) website, “The use is restricted from these patient care areas because UL cannot control what is connected to the power taps which could result in leakage current that would be in excess of what is permitted for patient care areas of hospitals.” UL further stated that “UL does Classify complete system medical cart assemblies for use in hospitals under the product category “Medical Equipment (PIDF).” Those medical cart assemblies may contain a power tap as part of the tested assembly per UL 60601-1 Medical Electrical Equipment (previously UL 2601-1.) Interpreting UL’s statements, it appears that external equipment (that not already tested as part of the listing process) may not be plugged into the cart-mounted power strips.

Some hospitals are taking the risk assessment approach to this issue – that is recognizing that power strips, or relocatable power taps, are subject to failure just like any other device and therefore inventorying them and subjecting them to the same risk-based testing and maintenance regimens as outlets and medical devices.

Stay tuned to ASHE’s ongoing advocacy efforts – this subject is likely to continue to be part of those efforts due to its potential cost impact on America’s hospitals.

As always, regardless of the area in which such devices are used, facilities need to be aware of the total loading of devices plugged into them and ensure that the portable devices themselves, and the branch circuits that feed them, do not become overloaded. If power strips are presently being used, regardless of the area, high current-draw equipment should not be plugged into them.