Healthcare end-users must be aware of their options to maintain an open, yet secure, environment
- By Steve Connor
- June 17, 2020
Hospitals are where people go to seek treatment, recover and
address critical injuries. It’s the place where doctors, nurses,
and other healthcare providers devote themselves to helping
people who need medical attention. In addition to this critical
focus, a hospital also has to protect against unauthorized
access, theft of medications or sensitive patient information, and guard
against workplace violence, which affects hospitals more than other
industries. At the same time, they must maintain a level of accessibility
and openness, which presents difficulties as it relates to security.
The healthcare market has a range of specific physical security
requirements that make it challenging to provide complete protection
for a hospital. 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 healthcare facilities are often fast-paced environments. 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 to understand the many facets that go into hardening the
security of the facility, while simultaneously maintaining an open
environment dedicated to patient care. Every business needs to do
what it can to stand apart from others in the industry, so a heightened
understanding of the total security needs for a healthcare institution
will better prepare end-users to invest in technology that will provide
safety, both now and in the future.
How Access Fits
Whether it’s in the heat of an emergency or simply going about a normal
day, hospital employees must have frictionless access requiring minimal
user interaction 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, using
RFID, NFC, or UHF technologies, can be implemented to fit this
environment. The locking mechanisms that are chosen for hospital
entryways should incorporate these same aspects.
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.
HIPAA laws are very much on everyone’s minds for hospitals and
anything healthcare and are often the driving force behind technology
adoption. While access control systems do not contribute directly
to the protection of cyber-based patient information, they can
harden the security of rooms that patients don’t need access to.
For example, clerical offices where protected records are located should
receive higher levels of security than the cafeteria. By only giving access
rights to necessary individuals, this eliminates other individuals from
coming in contact with sensitive information that they don’t necessarily
need access to — nurses, doctors and interns. Hardening administrative
offices and medical billing, and providing credentials only to people who
need to access those areas, provides the means by which hospitals can
leverage physical security to protect HIPAA-compliant records.
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.
Installation Needs For Healthcare
Healthcare facilities require as little down time as possible at their
entryways to secure areas. When an access path is taken out of commission,
it ideally should be for as short a time as possible. Exploring
wireless locks is 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 installation 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.
Protecting Both Data and Assets
Due to the nature of their work, healthcare centers 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 network
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.
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. Video analytics,
when used alongside access control systems, can provide valuable
insight into a variety of areas. Users in healthcare are using analytics
to improve consumer experiences and help doctors, nurses, and other
employees to more effectively provide excellent 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 to improve patient outcomes.
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. Pairing this with video analytics provides 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, but doing so with
the help of video analytics further contributes to increased insight into
patient and employee behaviors.
Solutions to Meet These 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. This is certainly true for the hospital environment.
Above and beyond other considerations, 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. These
various elements of technology hinge upon one critical point: whether
the door is physically locked or unlocked when it needs to be.
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.
This article originally appeared in the May June 2020 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.