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Securing a health-care facility: An integrators’ guide

From access control to information privacy, hospital environments present challenges and opportunities


May 14, 2020
By Jason Spielfogel
Image: Morsa Images / Getty Images

The healthcare market has a range of specific physical security requirements that make providing complete protection to hospitals challenging.

Pharmacies and pharmaceutical storage areas need to remain secure against unauthorized personnel with systems in place that recognize and track which employees are entering and why. Numerous secure zones in a hospital need access control, such as quarantined areas or secure wards. All of this is complicated by the fact that health-care facilities can be fast-paced; doctors and nurses need quick and easy access to areas during emergencies.

When dealing with an environment as complex as a hospital, it’s crucial for integrators to understand the many facets that go into securing the facility, from the emergency room to the maternity ward.

How access fits in

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Whether it is in the heat of an emergency or simply going about a normal day, hospital employees need to have frictionless access to secure areas that they are authorized to enter. This fact requires identity management and access control systems that are easy to use, fast and reliable. Various smart card readers and access control solutions, utilizing RFID, NFC or UHF technologies, can be implemented to fit this environment.

The doors that need to be protected in a hospital can vary greatly in their needs for locking mechanisms and access systems, ranging from external-facing entryways to smaller cabinets that contain sensitive pharmaceuticals. These could be implemented as new areas of a hospital are constructed or they might need to be retrofitted onto current rooms to replace outdated equipment. In any case, the solutions need to work well with the hospital’s needs and current systems.

In addition to monitoring employee access rights, hospitals also need to track critical assets to ensure they haven’t been lost or stolen. This can include tracking where wheelchairs and gurneys are stored on the campus or tagging packages that are at high risk of theft, such as medication like painkillers. These and other customizable applications can be accomplished by using RFID and NFC tags. The same solutions can be used to monitor the location of infants or patients at risk for wandering.

Smart card credentials and readers can handle allowing or denying access, but they are even more powerful and agile when paired with a physical access management platform. These platforms can track movements and easily change parameters around access for certain users or times of the day. The specific needs for access points, which may change over time, could impact the locking mechanism needed for one doorway or another throughout a hospital environment.

What health-care facilities need

Healthcare facilities require as little down time as possible at their entryways to secure areas. When an access path is taken out of com- mission,it ideally should be for as short a time as possible. Integrators should consider exploring wireless locks as one way to speed up an install and cause less disruption for both doctors and patients.

Wireless locks can be implemented into doors easier and faster than their wired counterparts, which expand the areas of interruption and increase install times. Hospital employees need to be allowed quick and easy access around a hospital to best help their patients. Blocking or eliminating the use of a doorway, which is necessary for wired solutions that require the installation of multiple different elements, could impede many critical functions.

For example, patients might have their activity or sleep upset, both of which are necessary elements of recovery. A shorter installation time with wireless locks means that work can be more easily scheduled at a convenient time for patients and doctors, which is a value proposition that integrators who only offer wired solutions cannot compete with.

Protecting data

Due to the nature of their work, health-care centres collect and maintain many types of sensitive data. In the event of a breach, patients’ sensitive information could be maliciously accessed via a weak point in the network. Endpoint devices that have access to the net- work should be cybersecure against breach vulnerabilities.

When many systems are interconnected, having proper cybersecurity protocols among all devices is a necessary step to ensure that all systems on a hospital’s network are running smoothly.

Integrators should work with trusted technology partners who have a proven track record of cybersecurity success to better ensure their clients are prepared in the event of a breach.

Using analytics

Security providers have, for years, been finding new ways to utilize existing infrastructure, and one consistent area of overlap is among video systems, analytics and business intelligence. Integrators should take this same approach when installing in a health-care environment.

Video analytics, when used alongside access control systems, can provide valuable insight into a variety of areas. Users in healthcare are engaging with analytics to improve consumer experiences and help doctors, nurses and other employees to more effectively provide patient service. For example, when integrated with access control systems, analytics can provide insight into busier times of days, trends in patient needs and more in an effort to better assist in scheduling during peak periods. In turn, hospitals can be sure they are staffed properly to provide better patient support and improve patient outcome.

Certain doorways, such as those housing high-risk patients, have trigger points that let administrators know of a variety of event types: door holding, door forced, etc. Integrators who opt to pair this with video analytics provide their end users with the situational awareness necessary to make an informed decision.

For example, if a healthcare provider does not close a door after leaving a patient room, data gathered from access control and video analytics can alert administration to this incident, but simply closing the door will fix the issue. On the other hand, if a patient is actively trying to escape their room, administrators can deploy on-site staff to de-escalate the situation. Keeping people safe and secure is the goal of access control, so suggesting tools like video analytics will further contribute to increased insight into patient and employee behaviours.

Solutions to meet goals

The goal in access control within healthcare environments is very similar across all applications: keeping the wrong people out while letting the right people in.

Above and beyond, hospitals must be able to track and locate critical equipment or resources while also monitoring all the people entering secure areas and their reasons for doing so.
To be successful, integrators must understand that hospitals are unique environments dedicated to openness, but also have many security considerations to take into account.

Integrators who have a solid understanding of the ins and outs of healthcare security will be better positioned to make relevant recommendations and will more easily gain the trust of end users.

At the end of the day, healthcare facilities are focused on providing the best level of care for their patients, and that includes keeping them safe, securing their critical medications, and protecting their sensitive information. It is the job of the integrator to help them accomplish these goals as efficiently as possible.

Jason Spielfogel is the director of product management for Identiv (www.identiv.com).


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