Healthcare Facilities and Physical Security

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By: Kim Brown

Date Published: February 09, 2022

In an industry that is understandably dependent on cybersecurity, physical security is often left out of discussions about healthcare safety trends and strategies. But physical security is absolutely necessary for hospitals and similar facilities.  

Those that are in the field already know that healthcare providers are four to five times more likely to be a victim of aggravated assault than people in other professions. Healthcare workers recognize that many injuries caused by patients are unintentional, and as a result, may not report incidents. Similarly, healthcare workers don’t want to stigmatize the perpetrators due to their illness or impairment. This combination of factors leaves nurses, admins, and aides very vulnerable.

 

Healthcare facilities need to invest in physical security

In addition to working with people who may act aggressively or violently towards their caregivers, healthcare professionals are subjected to additional risk factors including:

  • Inadequate security staff
  • Lack of means of emergency communication
  • Unrestricted public access
  • Lack of training and policies for staff

It’s challenging enough to retain healthcare staff without the threat of violence. To create safer and more sustainable work environments, many healthcare systems have invested in security staff, employee training, and improved video surveillance systems.

 

Cameras provide context

If a patient or family member attacked an employee, security could be alerted, but the facility still wouldn’t have reliable insight into what happened. Cameras can monitor busy hallways as well as hidden corridors, allowing care facilities to handle and resolve situations with more certainty.

Cameras are also being used in combination with other technologies so that security teams can operate more effectively. For example, one facility shared that it was having trouble monitoring hundreds of different feeds at the same time. The solution was a program that could facilitate a certain amount of automation. The hospital employed a new video management system that combined its existing platforms, and then added an audio analytics tool that detected and classified certain noises. If a door alarm sounds, or glass is broken, the video feed associated with the noise takes priority on the screen in the security operations center. This allows security to identify an incident as soon as it occurs, and respond to issues before they escalate.

 

AI and access control

A growing number of organizations are using facial-recognition technology to better control access to restricted spaces. Facial recognition can be applied to limit access to drug discovery labs, operating rooms, intensive care units, and more. While this technology still creates unease, experts predict that the global AI healthcare market will increase at a rapid pace.

Facial recognition software could be used to check patients in and out without requiring staff to collect paperwork from them. More importantly, facial recognition-based solutions would help to correctly identify patients and eliminate the risk of confusing patients who are scheduled for procedures. 

If this tool is incorporated into a video surveillance system on the hospital premises, it could be used to identify people who have created issues for the facility in the past so that security could stop them before they enter the building.

While this last functionality is still in its infancy, facial recognition technology could be used to monitor emotions. This could help security staff identify and locate people who are about to lash out or attack a caregiver.  

 

Security guards perform jobs that tech cannot

Guards that specialize in hospital or psychiatric environments are sometimes referred to as healthcare security professionals (HSPs). HSPs are tasked with maintaining the security and safety of the healthcare community, including hospital staff, patients, and visitors, while assisting people when needed. Guards that work in these settings must provide an empathetic approach to safely managing patient aggression, and support the clinical teams with volatile or unpredictable patients.

Healthcare facilities pose diverse, dynamic, and complex security situations. As such, officers working in these environments do best if they have some practical experience as well as specific training. A qualified HSP is trained in resistance management, crisis management, effective communications, Criminal Code applications, first aid and CPR, sharp edge weapon defense, and emergency management. It’s a lot to ask, but no one said this role was easy. Technology can often do one or two things really well, but people can master multiple skills and seamlessly switch between roles.

Furthermore, only a guard can apprehend someone or initiate a conversation to calm someone down. Humans will always play a critical role in providing a comprehensive security strategy. 

HSPs often act as a bridge between the different groups that they serve. They will be asked to work with various departments in order to resolve different issues. There might be a small flood one night, and security will need to reach out to the janitorial staff. The next week, the elevator breaks. In this case, the guard will need to coordinate with the maintenance team. That same evening, a nurse may ask the guard to accompany him to his vehicle. It’s easy to see how important these guards are to maintaining safety and security in healthcare facilities.

 

Combining people and technology

Healthcare guards can be even more valuable with the right tools. A guard tour system, for example, helps to improve communication and transparency between security and healthcare staff. A modern and discreet system like Patrol Points simplifies and streamlines the patrol process for guards. All they need is a smartphone and the mobile app to scan durable NFC tags.

Once a tag is scanned, the tag ID and time are automatically uploaded to the system. Management can see if guards were on time, ahead of schedule, or late for the patrol. The app will direct guards and tell them where to go next, which is helpful when routes need to be changed often. Management can preschedule patrols, giving HSPs time to prepare before their busy shift begins.   

Patrol Points can even be used offline. If the guard can’t get reception while underground or in a stairwell, the patrol data is saved locally on their phone and automatically uploaded to the platform once they have service again.

If a situation comes up mid patrol, guards can create an incident report at any checkpoint. This report can be viewed by management as soon as it is saved to the system. They will immediately understand why a scheduled patrol wasn’t completed, and can even come to the scene if the guard needs assistance.

Finally, reports allow security teams to share the most relevant data with hospital staff. Management can filter reports based on the date, route, and even route status. Comprehensive data can reveal patterns or trends that would be hard to identify with paper reports. For example, the security team may notice that one wing has seen a spike in violent altercations. Parties can work together to implement new strategies to proactively stop this trend from continuing.

 

Conclusion

Preparing for and reducing physical and virtual threats is key to complete security for healthcare organizations. Healthcare facilities have learned that they need to have flexible security solutions that can be deployed in a variety of different situations. Improved safety ensures a better quality of care for patients, and more stable work environments for doctors, nurses and other staff.