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Mounted vs Portable Surgical Lights: Which is Best for Your Operating Room


Optimal quality lighting is critical for every operating room. Modern technology for medical equipment has made the standards higher for surgical lighting systems, whether mounted or portable.

This guide is designed to answer the question “ Mounted vs Portable Surgical Lights: Which is Best for Your Operating Room? ” so you can make an informed decision as you make your medical equipment purchase. We’ll start with the basics:

What is important about the quality of the light itself?

  • The FDA and Surgical Lights
  • Pros for Mounted Surgical Lights
  • Cons for Mounted Surgical Lights
  • Pros for Portable Surgical Lights
  • Cons for Portable Surgical Lights
  • Surgical Light Recommendations

Lighting in any medical office is of great importance, no matter if it is an ER, an OR, a trauma bay, a surgical office, or an exam room in a doctor’s office. This applies to dentist offices as well, for dental implants, and veterinary surgery rooms for large or small animals. All medical professionals need excellent lighting when providing care.

What is important about the quality of the light itself?

There are many aspects of medical lighting to consider when you are purchasing a surgical lighting system. Surgeons and doctors require high-intensity light without glare and shadows. The intensity of light is measured in a unit called a lux. Medical lights typically have a wide range from 80,000 to 160,000 lux.

In order to decide exactly what type of surgical lighting is required in a particular location, first consider your current overhead lighting and ambient lights. A well-lit room may need fewer surgical lights because of brighter room lighting. Most surgeons prefer more light and additional surgical lights because the overhead lighting or other medical devices are casting shadows which degrade the surgical team’s view of the procedure site.

It is important that doctors and technicians can clearly see the body’s tissues and organs during a medical procedure especially deep into body cavities. Tissue is non-reflective, so it is quite dark. When light is absorbed by the surgical site it becomes difficult for surgeons to see, making eye strain a real concern.

For any procedure,  surgical lighting must provide the right amount of illumination to the right area of the operating table. Brighter is not always better. Intensity that is too great will cause eye fatigue and glare. By overlapping light beams, the quality of light can be controlled allowing for ample site illumination.

High-quality medical lighting will deliver a properly tuned, high-intensity light directly to the surgical site. It does so without shadowing or glare, assisting surgeons and other physicians to see clearly in order to interpret the vessels or other tissues with the highest possible level of accuracy. It is critically important that the surgeon, surgical team, vet, physician, dentist or orthodontist be able to fully visualize the field where they are working.

Manually adjusting a light head up or down is often quite distracting, and it can break a surgeon’s concentration while they perform surgery. This interruption is minimized if the light can be moved about easily. Suspension systems that require frequent attention will cause interruptions, diverting critical attention away from the patient. This prolongs the surgery, which increases costs and creates potential risks for the patient. A good lighting system should be one that nobody notices because the procedures are performed quickly, safely and easily. A bad lighting system requires too much manual adjustment losing valuable time and doesn’t provide sufficient, accurate lighting.

The FDA and Surgical Lights

FDA regulations describe surgical lamps (see regulation 21 CFR 878.4580). They define a surgical lamp, which includes a portable surgical light, as any device that is intended to be utilized for providing visible illumination on a surgical field or on a patient. The FDA has classified all surgical lights as a class II device (special controls).

Pros for Mounted Surgical Lights

Most surgical lights can be mounted either on a tabletop, on the wall, or on the ceiling. The choice is usually made based on the physical features and layout of the operating room.

One of the main advantages of a mounted medical light system is that the hardware for the surgical light is out of the way of the surgical team. The suspension arm(s) use a precision balance system and are articulated. This allows for a greater reach and an easily adjustable range of positions. Manufacturers have worked extensively with surgical light manufactures to research and continually surgical lights arms. Modern surgical light arms provide endless flexibility while being easy and quick to use during surgical procedures.

Philips Burton, one of the world’s largest suppliers of surgical light sources, offers the widely used  APEX Surgical Light. It includes features such as:

  • Arm rotation that is unlimited.
  • Exceptionally smooth focus using the center handle, which can be sterilized in an autoclave.
  • The control box is included, which has an on/off switch.
  • The intensity adjustment is continuous, which means you can turn up or down the light source to exactly the level needed.
  • The aesthetic arm system is durable and is specifically known to be drift free and trouble free. This means the light source will not move away from the surgical site while the procedure is ongoing.
  • It is available in both 8-foot and 10-foot mounts, with your choice of with single or double sets of lights.

When semi-flexible shaft, stationary surgical lights are mounted to the ceiling, they supply a particularly condensed light beam. This usually offers an adequate amount of flexibility for the general practitioner, general exam room, dental practice, and veterinary room. Some special applications like operating rooms, emergency rooms, and surgical clinics may want to supplement the lighting option with a two or three-head surgical light, such as the Medical Illumination System Two LED Surgical Light.

In an operating room (OR), the lights need to be positioned with minimal time and effort. It is critical that the light source be easy to position. A heavy light is likely to be a problem when it comes to the necessary mobility standards. When a surgical light is simply too heavy, it will either be difficult to move, or it will tend to drift from the original position. The lighting suspension must allow the doctor or medical staff to position the light source using very little force. However, it cannot be too loosely attached that it moves too far or drifts, getting in the way of other lights and medical equipment, or even staff members.

Wall and ceiling-mounted surgical lights also provide a very clean and professional appearance. A mounted surgical light gives a sense of permanency and trustworthiness.

Cons of Mounted Surgical Lights

Mounted surgical lights do have drawbacks. Operating lights that are ceiling or wall-mounted do provide a lot of light, but they do lack some degree of flexibility. No matter how much light they produce, they are still fixed at their base. They may have quite a reach, but they cannot be moved into the next room.

It is also very important to mount the light source exactly where it will be needed and at the correct height. Any redesign of the office layout or furniture can cause the mounted light device to be unusable. Also, you must be careful that a patient lying in an exam chair or on an examination table is not staring directly into the bright light.

Pros for Portable Surgical Lights

A portable surgical light head is the same as the light head of wall and ceiling-mounted surgical light. The only difference is that the portable surgical light heads are mounted on a stand with wheels.

Although a battery back-up is often an option for any medical light system, the portable LED surgical lights are even more likely to be outfitted with a battery. This allows for the free movement of the mobile light source throughout the clinic areas. The portable LED surgical lights use much less energy than traditional surgical light sources, allowing the battery backup units to be extremely efficient and long-lasting.

Fewer surgical lighting units may be required by some clinics if they plan for the mobile lights to be moved throughout the facility. This saves money on the initial investment of surgical lighting. These portable surgical lights are single light units and lack the technology options of the wall, ceiling mounted surgical lights. For example, a ceiling surgical light can be configured with additional for high-definition monitors and high-definition video cameras.

A portable surgical light head may be used alone as the sole source of procedural lighting, but often a mobile light source is used in addition to wall or ceiling-mounted lighting. This often occurs when the non-portable lighting has been deemed inadequate, or when a backup is requested for a specific purpose.

The portable and powerful Medical Illumination MI-1000 LED Surgical Light is a great example of a surgical lights that widely used as a portable model and as a ceiling mounted surgical light.

The main advantage of the portable LED surgical light sources is their flexibility, while still providing high quality lighting for medical procedures.

Cons of portable surgical lights

One disadvantage of a portable surgical light is that there is the possibility the surgical light will be in the way of the medical professional as they perform the procedure. The light source would then need to be moved, or at least slightly adjusted any time the patient has a positional change, or the doctor needs to see from a different angle. Additionally, portable surgical lights do not provide the flexibility to easily adjust the surgical lamp head for optimal viewing of the surgical site.

Tracking the surgical light’s location and making sure it is available for a procedure are common problems. There is always the possibility that a portable surgical light will be in another room when you want it, or it is unavailable because it is already in use. Things can move around quickly in a medical clinic setting and potentially disappear unless the lighting is mounted to the wall or ceiling.


In order to ensure optimal lighting for the accurate work required of surgeons, doctors, and other medical professionals, it is usually best to have a combination of good lighting sources. Often in hospital wings, clinic settings, and dentist offices, the financial administration looks for surgical lights that have several options and configurations for a wide range of uses.

Examples of multi-configurable surgical lights are:

Medical Illumination MI-1000 LED Surgical Light – available in single ceiling-mounted, dual ceiling-mounted, wall-mounted and portable floor versions (with and without battery backup).

Medical Illumination MI-750 LED Surgical Light – available in single ceiling-mounted, dual ceiling-mounted, wall-mounted and portable floor versions (with and without battery backup).

Philips Burton AIM-100 Surgical Light – available in single wall or ceiling-mounted, double ceiling-mounted and portable floor stand versions.

By using both wall-mounted and portable surgical lights of the same type, a hospital or clinic can easily keep necessary medical supplies on hand, such as light bulbs or modules. Many clinics are making procurement policies to replace their halogen bulb surgical lights since the LED bulbs mean lower maintenance costs. The LED surgical lights last over 10 times longer than older halogen bulbs. LEDs last 40,000 to 50,000 hours, while halogen bulbs typically last only 4,000 hours. LED surgical lights consume less electricity, using less than half of the electricity of the halogen.

Surgical lighting units have become more than just a light. Many times, they act as the infrastructure hub for imaging equipment to be used during procedures. The goal is to build an efficient, cost-effective lighting system which provides the best possible light source for each and every procedure and application.

The eyes of the surgeon and the other medical professionals are the only surgical tools more important than the surgical lighting system. Doctors perform many cases every day under a high-intensity illumination which can cause severe eye strain. Soft illumination that covers the procedural field without any glare will allow surgeons and doctors, vets and other medical professionals to see well with optimal light over long periods of time. This means they can work without the eye fatigue often associated with close work under brightly lit sites.

When it comes to purchasing medical equipment and supplies, choosing the right surgical lights is an extremely important purchase decision. Surgical lights affect patient care and the medical professionals who perform procedures. Other considerations include the costs associated with energy use and maintenance, such as replacement bulbs.

For more information and additional guidance on choosing the best lighting and other surgical products for your facility, contact USA Medical and Surgical Supplies today. Call us toll-free at 1-866-561-2380, or Email Us.