Exploring the latest innovations in access control technology for healthcare environments
Hospitals and care homes present a complex security challenge
The physical environment of a healthcare facility is the foundation of all that occurs in it.
And implementing effective safety and security solutions is vital to creating an environment that enhances a building for those working and staying there.
“Healthcare facilities present a considerably-complex security challenge,” said Karen Trigg, business development manager at Allegion UK.
Electronic access control systems are increasingly being used to enhance safety and security to enable access only to the people with the necessary authority
“Optimising a facility’s physical environment – that is, everything from door hardware to locks and access control – has a direct link to improved patient health and safety, staff safety, security, and performance; in turn increasing operational efficiencies and financial outcomes.”
And there are multiple influencing factors to choosing the right solutions, such as reducing noise, maximising free passage for optimum people movement, minimising cross-contamination, administering adequate preparation for emergency situations, and enabling safe and efficient egress when necessary.
“Years ago, older healthcare buildings with outdated or damaged hardware were limited by choice and the upgrades that were available weren’t always an appropriately-fitted replacement,” said Trigg.
“Notwithstanding this, any budgeting pressures these facilities faced led to a reluctance to upgrade old traditional systems.”
Today, however, the scope of solutions available to the UK market means healthcare managers can opt for products that fit their specific needs and requirements.
The British Security Industry Association’s Guide to Access Control for the Healthcare Sector provides an overview of the risks and the technologies available to address them.
Security, right from the perimeter, and door entry systems, must be able to accommodate a growing and changing environment, with hundreds of people milling the halls every day
It states: “Hospitals and residential care homes are not only made up of members of staff who will be there on a daily basis, but also patients and a large volume of visitors passing through the premises.
“As well as this transient population, many high-value goods such as computers, laptops, projectors and other IT equipment are kept on site, not to mention the personal possessions of staff and patients.
“Furthermore, an abundance of confidential documents such as patient notes will be stored on the premises as well as a range of medication.
“Consequently, electronic access control systems are increasingly being used to enhance safety and security to enable access only to the people with the necessary authority.”
Generally, it advises, modern electronic access control systems will comprise of three component parts:
Ben Farrar, market development manager at Traka, which has installed access control solutions at Leicester Hospital, The London Clinic, and Addenbrooke’s Hospital among others, said: “Each hospital will require its own independent specification when it comes to access control and this will depend, in part, on the age of the buildings and their existing security portfolio, often purchased at different stages between departments and over many years.
“Aside from the physical systems installed, hospitals must also balance the welcoming feel of the building design, intended for peace and healing, with managing constant visitor traffic, securing multiple buildings and hectic emergency departments, maintaining sensitive areas, and increasingly enforcing drug control, all on a 24/7/365 basis.”
From a patient point of view, access control systems must consider:
Comelit Group installed door entry solutions at Rathview Mental Health Facility, a new £2.8m development in Omagh
The latter was highlighted last yeart when an elderly patient died in hospital after accessing, and drinking, cleaning fluid.
And the safety of staff is equally important.
Farrar said: “Any security must consider the diversity in staff positions, for example roles and hours of operation; how temporary and permanent staff require different access rights; and when access rights need to be revoked or revalidated.”
And security advisors are also increasingly being asked to assist in reducing physical attacks on frontline staff.
To this end, body-worn camera technology is becoming a popular choice. “Finding the right system is the most-difficult task and in a highly-competitive market, there are many to choose between,” warns Mike Campbell, business development manager at Comelit Group.
It’s really important to check at the time of commissioning that the networks can accommodate security upgrades, especially in bringing doors online to utilise access control
“Security, right from the perimeter, and door entry systems, must be able to accommodate a growing and changing environment, with hundreds of people milling the halls every day.”
The company recently installed door entry solutions at Rathview Mental Health Facility, a new £2.8m development in Omagh.
In total, door entry systems were commissioned for all four entrance points to the facility, and a total of four 316 Sense panels were fitted, along with two staff stations and a concierge unit.
Each of the 12 apartments has also been fitted with a pull cord and emergency response button, cabled into Comelit’s Mini handsfree monitors.
Designed to operate through Comelit’s VIP system, it utilises the Security Systems Network and allows a priority call to the concierge in case of emergency.
Offering advice to those specifying new systems, Campbell said: “Discuss security as early as possible, even in the initial design and specification process for a facility, whether it be for a new-build or refurbishment programme.
“Any security technology must be strategically placed, unobtrusive and not affect the aesthetics of a healthcare facility, which would have been carefully designed to support patient, staff and visitor health and wellbeing.”
While most modern systems can be easily retrofitted into existing facilities; the project success will often depend on connectivity.
Campbell said: “In a new build, naturally the entire system can be installed from scratch using the latest technology. They are generally installed with Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and the Internet Protocol (IP) connectivity to enable fast and instant communications across an entire facility; and they have more opportunity to blend in with the surroundings.
“In upgrades to existing systems, security options usually have to rely on a dedicated local area network (LAN,) which often only spans a relatively-small area.”
“It’s really important, therefore, to check at the time of commissioning that the networks can accommodate security upgrades, especially in bringing doors online to utilise access control.”
Looking to the future, Traka predicts that emerging smart systems will continue to evolve.
“For hospitals, wider-range RFID technology and GPS location of items will significantly benefit healthcare facilities,” Farrar said.
“Biometrics and retina scanning are also now being specified, especially for sensitive areas; and auto-drug vender lockers are helping to manage drug control safely, even to the extent that different healthcare professionals can have controlled access to only areas they need for their own patients.”
Hospitals must balance the welcoming feel of the building design with managing constant visitor traffic, securing multiple buildings, maintaining sensitive areas, and increasingly enforcing drug control
He concludes: “The ideal futureproof solution is becoming more integrated; where a building management system and single database is controlling all aspect of fire safety and security across a hospital site.
“The reason this is important is if a staff member leaves, they can be removed in real time from the entire system, leaving no vulnerabilities due to retained credential access.”
Campbell added: “Security is seeing more integration with building control systems through the Internet of Things.
The ideal futureproof solution is becoming more integrated; where a building management system and single database is controlling all aspect of fire safety and security across a hospital site
“Intercoms are increasingly operated through WiFi, which is especially beneficial on busy wards where healthcare teams no longer have to return to stations to allow access.
“And the more integrated; the wider the scope to cover security over complete grounds of a hospital facility.”
Furthermore, like all technology, healthcare access control systems are rapidly evolving to accommodate the increasing reliance on mobile devices.
“These elements will all work in favour of budget and resource-stretched hospital managers who can benefit from significant cost and efficiency savings as they are no longer reliant on distributing cards as new or replacement options,” said Campbell.