12 Nov 2015

Editor Introduction

Healthcare organizations are an important vertical market for many security manufacturers and integrators. Like other vertical markets, healthcare has its own unique set of requirements and challenges for physical security systems. We asked this week’s Expert Panel: What are the distinctive security problems faced by healthcare organizations? What technologies are being embraced to increase security?

The control of pharmacy supplies is a key security challenge for healthcare organizations. With an inventory of drugs and potentially poisonous substances, legislation is clear that there must be the tightest security and accurate audit trails on all controlled substances. Strict access control is a necessity, but CCTV surveillance and intruder alarms are also important as part of an integrated security approach.

Another key area for healthcare security is protecting vulnerable people. Maternity units are a good example, where babies can now be tagged to ensure they are not taken (or even swapped) by unauthorized persons. Equally, some healthcare organizations are using CCTV to monitor medical areas to ensure both visitors and staff are monitored – to avoid any malicious or accidental tampering with equipment or the infants themselves. Furthermore, hospitals contain lots of valuable equipment, so asset tagging is becoming a popular way to protect assets and prevent theft.

Healthcare organizations face many of the same security problems as other businesses including theft, burglary, vandalism, and traffic accidents, as well as potential litigation relating to slip-and-fall or vehicle damage claims. However, one of the “hot beds” of a hospital is its behavioral health areas and emergency rooms, where potential violence can erupt and threaten the safety of doctors, nurses' patients and visitors. In addition, nurses, doctors or other personnel can also be the target of disgruntled patients or family members associated with domestic violence or other incidents. Expanded video surveillance systems are being deployed, both indoors and out, to give hospital security personnel the necessary tools to monitor activity and react quickly when and if an incident occurs. Ultra-high definition security cameras positioned in high-traffic areas — such as emergency rooms, general entrances and exits, cafeterias and outpatient buildings — act as deterrents and effectively capture clear images in low-light conditions.

Simon Lambert Lambert & Associates

The information that healthcare institutions store about us is so sensitive it’s akin to financial data. Both paper-based and electronic notes demand extremely robust protection regarding storage, access, transmission, destruction and audits. Security should control physical access regarding medical and support staff, patients and visitors, drugs and equipment. Mental health units and emergency rooms can see emotions run high and may experience daily security incidents. It’s a difficult balance to get right, especially when people are in a vulnerable condition and wish for an atmosphere supporting their wellbeing. Monitoring and management tools such as CCTV must follow the premises’ ethos, as should security personnel. Hospitals naturally mix public access 24-7-365 with very private services. When something goes wrong it hits the news very quickly. It’s a shame many hospitals I visit professionally may have willing staff but are woefully let down by poor systems. Money and good security advice needed.

Hospitals and other large healthcare facilities can be geographically large campus environments, resembling small cities – and just as diverse. Multi-building campuses are typical, so controlling access to various areas is an important consideration and ongoing challenge. Legacy access control systems may have to be tied together as new buildings are added. Many types of environments are involved. In emergency rooms, open to all, emotions run high and violence can spill over from the surrounding neighborhood. Medicines have to be protected from theft, and physical systems are a factor in the legally required protection of patient records. Security manpower is important, so electronic systems must be designed to help personnel be more effective. Video is essential to provide situational awareness in real time and to document incidents after the fact. In case of a community-wide emergency, the local hospital becomes the focus of treating victims, so disaster preparedness is critical.

Editor Summary

Hospitals and healthcare facilities do important work that could mean life or death to patients. Physical security systems are an important component in that work. By protecting the facility, staff and patients from a variety of threats, security systems make it possible for healthcare facilities to do their work in a secure environment. A broad range of technologies are available to protect hospitals and healthcare facilities, boosted by security manpower.