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Integration just what the doctor ordered

Integration just what the doctor ordered
Wireless locks and asset management improve overall hospital efficiency, while bolstering security at the same time.

The high-stress environment of health care requires more control. An integrated system allows a hospital's security staff to be more efficient, creating a more secure environment. Wireless locks, asset management, and the convergence of physical and logical access control enable organizations to leverage existing investments to create a fully interoperable security solution. Ultimately, there will be a return from improved security, efficiency, and patient satisfaction.

Wireless electronic locks are becoming standard for health care facilities. They anchor the principle of reducing complexity in all areas. “These have become an inexpensive way for facilities to enter the ‘badge-access' world. Limited expertise is needed and they allow the ability to report access and usage details for security,” said Ben Myers, Director of Plant Operations at Deaconess Medical Center.

Ease of installation is another crucial factor, making wireless locks more common. Installers can install wireless locks without running wires to every door, which is easier, cheaper, faster, and less intrusive to patient areas, compared to wired solutions “Wireless locks can easily be installed to secure areas where hard-wired controls may not have been present before, due to the difficulty or impracticability of installation,” said John Davies, MD at TDSi. Wireless locks provide the benefit of not having to run cable in hospitals and not incur as much dust prevention and infection control during installation.

Wireless locks offer improved security over wired systems, which are dependent on potentially vulnerable wires to operate. “Wireless locking systems allows end users the ability to control access to areas of their facilities from a central networked computer or from a remote workstation,” said Kenneth Mara, President and CEO at World Wide Security. “Wireless locking systems are an essential part of the security installation. This allows for the integration of biometrics access and area cameras into the locking system. Controlled access and a view of those coming and going offers supreme security and flexibility.”

Strong Pulse
While automated asset management is in the early stages of deployment, the potential is huge. “With more than 10,000 hospitals and more than 1.7 million hospital beds in the U.S. alone, there are significant opportunities to deploy solutions,” said Ryan Maley, Director of Strategic Marketing, Zigbee Alliance. “Some of the drivers pushing adoption include the falling cost of the technology itself, the introduction of standards like Zigbee Health Care which help create interoperability among devices, and the needs of health care providers, who are increasingly judged on outcomes rather than simply on treatment.”

Asset management with RFID technology or mesh networks brings greater transparency to hospitals. “RFID tags can be used to track high-value items, which in a hospital are likely to be important for the provision of services in critical situations,” Davies said. “They can also be used to track elderly or psychiatric patients, as well as infants, who may be a danger to themselves or others. RFID tags can also be used to track pharmaceutical products or containers to ensure they are not removed by unauthorized individuals.”

The latest RFID tags include GPS for watching and knowing where the tag is. “This is great for locating any asset or person. The tags with greater reach are smaller and very affordable. Some of these tags also come with the two-way and three-way communications ability as well as integrating area cameras, so the tag can activate the security system around it during the alarm event. These tags can be integrated into the security system for alarm and event monitoring, making sure people and items are where they are supposed to be,” Mara said. “We are now able to locate the asset being tracked, to communicate with it, to provide third-party viewing with law enforcement, as well as to locate where the asset is, all at the same time. The hospital industry was one of the first to embrace this technology, using it for movement of both the patients and the employees. It has also been used successfully in the hospital setting as inventory management for equipment, supplies and medical samples. It is Instrumental in lowering the chances of mixing up patient samples, which was once so commonplace.”

Logical Choice
The ability to combine physical and logical access control on a single credential improves user convenience while increasing security and reducing deployment and operational costs. “There is an obvious synergy between physical and IT security within an IP-based access control environment. These solutions enable organizations to leverage their existing credential investment to seamlessly add logical access control for network log-on and create a fully interoperable, multilayered security solution across company networks, systems and facilities. They also help organizations enforce more consistent policies, while facilitating the use of consolidated audit logs throughout the enterprise,” said Sheila Stromberg, Director, Corporate End User Strategies at HID Global. “A key to realizing the benefits of IP-based, networked access control is the use of an open and scalable platform. This ensures that information can be seamlessly exchanged between the previously disparate systems. Systems based on open standards also make it easier for users to expand, customize and integrate solutions while delivering more robust security. Standards-based solutions also give users the flexibility to choose from many different products and suppliers, and to tailor these solutions to their own, specific needs.”

“The integration of physical and logical access control via wireless locking could provide the benefits of an added layer of security on top of badging and passwords without adding complexity for the end user,” said Scott Bartlett, CEO at Southwest Surveillance Systems. “With wireless locks, re-securing accessed resources becomes automatic as well. The less interference a security system creates, the more valuable it becomes.” While physical and logical access control systems are a comprehensive suite for security systems integrating all the necessary technology to make a customized security management system for a customer, this is not an out-of-the box solution, cautioned Mara. “All companies enjoy being the primary company on-site to perform all the tasks associated with advanced security solutions over a long period of time. This is not always possible, so it is vital to understand every aspect of technology from programming to trouble shooting and to re-engineering, when necessary.”

Myers agreed. “This is where most health care facilities currently live and have issues. The IT security solutions often do not correlate or talk to the access control. This requires multiple databases that are managed by separate departments.”

“It is very common that the systems are installed by separate departments with different providers. Retrofitting them to play together can be costly,” said William Plante, Director of Professional Services at Aronson Security Group. “Getting to the front end of this process would be key to an organizations success.”

Since many health care facilities and hospitals do not have the financial resources to start from scratch with new security technologies, open standards-based solutions would be the logical choice. “If physical and logical access control systems are installed at different times by different people, it may be harder to ensure the integration and compatibility of security tools,” Davies said. “Many logical access control installers are now ensuring the compatibility with physical security, but there is some way to go with regards to physical security installers automatically linking to logical security systems.”

Most hospitals view security as a cost rather than an investment. Cost-effective solutions are the ones driving movement. Although there is a push towards cost-efficiency, hospitals must balance protecting patients and employees against workflow efficiency. “Most hospitals understand the significant cost of inefficiencies like underutilized assets,” Maley said. “Additionally, there will be a return from improved patient satisfaction and as hospitals are increasingly measured on patient outcomes, improved service through the use of technology will actually allow hospitals to increase the payments they receive for providing high-quality services.”

Under “Obamacare” legislation, hospital reimbursements are partially tied to patient satisfaction scores. “Having an unwelcomed event at a hospital that could have been prevented with basic security measures is very harmful to that organization's reputation. With increasing crime rates and potential threats against staff, patients and visitors, it becomes increasingly important and challenging to provide a high level of security,” said Matt Vellek, Southeast Regional Sales Manager at AMAG Technology. “With the convergence of IT and security as well as the integrations that are available, it makes the system more of a management tool for the organization, which drastically shifts it from a cost to an investment.”

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