Understanding the Nuances of Integrated Hospital Security and Safety Systems: Saving Time, Money and Lives
It’s no secret that technology has exponentially increased the ability of hospitals to operate more efficiently, protect patients and staff in new ways, and of course improve services. With all this new tech, things can get confusing. The sheer amount of technology in a hospital after years of installations can cause a drop in efficiency rather than improving it. For many hospitals, it may be time to begin thinking seriously about technology integration.
Technology tools are commonly added one at a time as a hospital can afford them or as problems arise and solutions are found. Violence in an emergency room, for example, may lead to the purchase of new surveillance cameras and access controls – a type of technology that tends to be one of the first upgraded safety and security tools a hospital feels it can afford to install. In fact, after a violent event, many hospitals believe they can’t afford NOT to install these tools.
Then, as time goes on and other challenges present themselves, security directors may add technology: remotely controlled doors, intercom systems, alarms, security cameras. Before they know it, the hospital may have a long list of technology with components that operate separately. With standalone components, when an incident happens, assigned hospital personnel must implement a long list of actions to activate the tools, and accurate use of the technology depends on human beings taking the correct actions at the correct times. This leaves the hospital open to errors, including taking too much time to respond to emergency situations.
The solution is to bring it all together and make all the safety and security components work in concert with one another. The best way to do this is to work with a knowledgeable, experienced technology integrator whose experienced personnel not only understand state-of-the-art hospital safety and security systems, but also are familiar with old equipment a hospital may already have in place.
A careful, detailed analysis of all components of the hospital’s systems should be completed, then the integrator can research current needs and make recommendations to bring all the pieces together in a well-appointed, integrated system that saves time, money – and even lives.
The Safety and Security Challenges Hospitals Face
Modern hospital safety and security technologies address a host of situations hospitals face during day-to-day operation, as well as unique situations that may only happen once in a while. It is important to use solutions that take into account the public nature of hospitals. “Even though you want your patients and staff to feel safe, you also don’t want your hospital to look like a prison,” said Amit Malla, Prime Communications Director of Security and Network Solutions. He said effective hospital security must include elements such as clear panels and turnstiles with appealing sleek lines that don’t make visitors feel uncomfortable.
Here are some of the most common security and safety challenges hospitals face, as well as examples of technologies used to manage them:
General Hospital Access:
The hospital must be open and welcoming, but the openness exposes the building, its patients and staff to potentially dangerous situations. Emergency rooms are notoriously perilous on weekend nights. In some areas of the country, the opioid crisis has exacerbated the problem.
Technology solutions: Aggression detection technology such as sound analytics can be used to trip alarms. It’s advisable to use a high density of cameras specifically designed to cover all sensitive areas. Some hospitals are beginning to use programmable turnstiles to give hospital security personnel a way to control entrance on demand. In active shooter situations, turnstiles can take the place of additional security staff and discreetly set up a barrier. Facial recognition software alerts security when specific people enter. Official threat-level platforms help all personnel understand exactly what actions should be taken and which technology should be activated in which situations.
These areas of the hospital can be susceptible to breaches of security when noncustodial parents and others attempt to remove a child.
Technology solutions: Dual authentication with fingerprint or facial recognition ensures staff badges cannot be stolen and used to enter the nursery.
Specified areas of all hospitals are used to store hazardous substances. Research hospitals often use potentially harmful substances in experiments – one example is uranium. Such substances must not only be under lock and key for safety reasons, but must be protected from theft.
Technology solutions: In addition to locked containers and cabinets, access control can be added on cabinets and doors, including dual authentication, to ensure authorized personnel are the only ones who can enter the area or access substances. Security cameras can act as a deterrent to help reduce employee theft and other threats.
Politically Motivated Breaches:
Research hospitals may host animals, for example, which makes them susceptible to politically motivated protests.
Technology solutions: As with hazardous substances, traditional security practices can be augmented by access control technology, including dual authentication. Facial recognition software can be used to identify known perpetrators. Sound analytics can help notify security immediately of specific violent actions
In most hospitals, the public must be restricted from private operational spaces and sensitive areas of the hospital.
Technology solutions: Administrative areas have a need to balance security and safe interaction with the public. Suitable access control technologies can be paired with a carefully detailed workflow, ensuring for example that public visitors are always escorted by personnel trained to handle conflict. Turnstiles can help provide a simple, elegant way to secure administrative staff
Most states require hospital pharmacies to follow regulations, including strict access control. Different user groups need to have different levels of access and administrative rights on different days, at different times.
Technology solutions: Some pharmacy areas must be completely locked down using tight access controls to restrict access to a small number of personnel. Other areas must be accessible by the public, while restricting access to pharmaceuticals. A carefully designed camera network can provide 24/7 observation by security personnel. All technology must support and document compliance
To comply with privacy regulations, hospitals must not only protect access to patient records, but must be able to document their efforts.
Technology solutions: Physical access control technologies can be used as described above to restrict access to records areas. In addition, digital solutions such as password protocols and firewalls must be put in place to manage access to computer files.
Slip and Fall Accidents:
Security protocols and systems are needed to reduce the risk of slip and fall accidents for patients. In addition, hospitals need documentation of any incidents for insurance purposes. A single fall can cost a hospital about $14,000, and patients sometimes make fraudulent claims.
Technology solutions: Effective nurse call systems help patients and visitors efficiently notify staff of falls so patients can be treated immediately. Surveillance technologies both provide visual monitoring of patients to detect falls and document incidents for insurance claims.
Why is Unified Safety and Security Technology so Important?
Hospitals are so large it can be challenging to handle incidents. Integrated safety and security systems can help hospital personnel rapidly respond, make fewer mistakes and feel more confident about their actions. “It’s important to use a qualified integrator who deeply understands all of the privacy, security and safety issues in a hospital, including the need to audit reports and provide logs of activity, both internally and externally.” said Malla.
Any hospital safety and security system should begin with a threat-level platform identifying potential situations and appropriate actions in a process workflow. Specific events should trigger prescribed automatic responses. For example, if facial recognition software identifies a potentially violent visitor or patient, doors can be automatically locked and appropriate security guards can be automatically notified. Without integration, time is lost as personnel attempt to communicate and assign tasks.
Other automatic actions include mass notification, such as when a fire alarm is pulled or a storm warning is detected. In the emergency room, sound analytics can immediately identify scuffles with patients; one trusted person can look at a camera or push a button to trigger a series of security actions, such as identifying the conflict location in a mapping tool, notifying security personnel, locking strategic doors, and calling local law enforcement.
All hospital safety and security systems should incorporate strategic, human and technology elements. An experienced system integrator can help hospital administrators smoothly incorporate all elements into a comprehensive plan. This is especially important for regional hospital networks with a centralized security office. “If you have a system with a couple of satellite facilities, maybe in a multistate area, from one screen you can look at what’s going on at each of the hospitals, and that’s a cost reduction in personnel,” said Malla.
Any comprehensive plan should include open architecture, which allows the hospital to cost-effectively take advantage of new advances as they are developed.
Ultimately, an integrated safety and security system can make a hospital more competitive. Patients choose hospitals where they feel safe and know there is a record of successfully resolving dangerous situations. “Ask your integrator to conduct penetration testing after the system is in place to see if a breach is possible,” Malla suggested. “And don’t forget about installing patches, encryption, and password protection to ensure your system is protected from external attacks.”
Prime Communications, Inc. has many years of experience formulating and smoothly implementing safety and security protocols and technologies. For more information about integrated systems designed specifically for hospital settings, call 402-289-4126 and ask to speak with one of our Business Development Managers.