Access control during a health crisis: Keeping people safe and secure

Paul Baratta

The current healthcare crisis has greatly impacted how healthcare providers operate. That, of course, is no surprise. This past spring healthcare facilities worked around the clock to flatten the curve and prepare for potentially more surges. Now, many are in the midst of that predicted autumn surge with a looming flu season not far off.

Over the past several months I’ve been contacted by hospitals and long-term care facilities about how network technology can help them. Some of the questions I’ve been asked include: How can we continue to provide quality care but minimize in-person visits to decrease the chance of exposure? How can we better protect PPE equipment, especially in temporary facilities? And if we invest now, how can this technology help our facility long-term? These questions help paint a picture of what’s most concerning: health, safety, and security.

We’ve learned the impact of COVID-19 is not short-term. It’s likely to drive the need for facilities to put into place long-term practices and adopt new technology. This will put them in the best position to mitigate the spread of disease, keep equipment secure, and ensure visitors, staff, and personnel remain safe.

In a previous blog post, we discussed how one hospital was able to use network technology to create a more low touch way to deliver patient care. In this post, I’ll discuss access control and how it can help healthcare providers today and well into the future.

Keeping people safe and healthy

Preventing the transmission of coronavirus in healthcare settings is obviously critical. A single person can infect 2 to 4 people, according to the Joint Commission. After 5 transmission cycles, it could then lead to upwards of 345 people being infected. We’ve all read or heard stories about the virus spreading rapidly through a population in enclosed settings.

To decrease droplet dispersal, scientists and healthcare officials have pleaded with people to wear masks, social distance when possible, wash their hands, and regularly disinfect surfaces. These practices, of course, are mandatory in healthcare settings, but present their own challenges. For example, in the case of PPE, many large providers have started to benefit from an improving PPE supply chain. But smaller healthcare facilities (or those in more rural settings) are still facing PPE shortages. Facilities put into place social distancing rules, but they’re not always easy to enforce. This is especially true in high traffic places like healthcare facilities. Often the best way to social distance is by limiting the number of people in a space or by redirecting traffic. Regularly disinfecting surfaces is important as well. But it’s also critical to reduce the amount of surfaces touched, which goes even further to suppress spread.

Low touch access control can act as a force multiplier for healthcare facilities by eliminating keypads and thus reducing the amount of shared contact points. It can also be coupled with a third-party system to automatically open and shut doors. This further removes the need to touch any surface such as a door handle.

The type of solution you need depends on your facility. For small, basic installations a low touch access control solution that utilizes QR codes might do the trick. It creates a credential with validity date and time. The person receives a QR code. From there, the network door controller receives their information and recognizes them. When they use the QR code, the system grants them access. Facilities can use a similar setup with RFID.

For more advanced security requirements, you’ll likely need a more robust solution. This will take advantage of the latest analytics and integrate seamlessly with other systems, such as intrusion detection, HVAC unit, HR systems, etc. Depending on the system, the network intercom or video door station, for example, could even ask the visitor to wear a mask before they enter the building.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital in Los Angeles is a great example of a facility that looked to get a handle on the virus by utilizing access control. They locked all of their card readers and used audio and messaging to direct everyone to a main entrance. This enabled the facility to screen employees, visitors, and vendors upon entry. Healthcare facilities could achieve something similar by using a trip wire application, network surveillance camera, and network horn speaker. When someone enters a predefined area, the solution automatically triggers a message. The possibilities are endless.

Security in focus

Along with mitigating the spread of virus, access control solutions can help healthcare facilities better protect against unauthorized access, theft of medication and PPE, and sensitive patient files.

This is especially critical when we consider temporary facilities, which were heavily relied on during the early days of the pandemic but are still in use around the world. These may be left without adequate security because of the typical high cost of traditional security installations. A deployable solution is extremely advantageous for temporary structures because it provides flexible, scalable security without the need of an onsite physical network.

Within the main facility, there are also a number of areas that need to be well-secured. These include restricted units with immune compromised patients, surgical units, or quarantined areas. An access control system can ensure that only authorized personnel enter these zones. Low touch access control is the perfect way to not only safeguard these quarters but mitigate the spread of the virus.

Outside, it’s possible to have control wherever you are with remote monitoring and communication. From any location, you can remotely open a door or speak to the person via your smartphone. A forced or propped open door can automatically trigger an alarm. Not only can this provide you with a sense of comfort, it reduces false alarms and makes managing staff easier—after all, security personnel can’t be everywhere at once.

Access control for today, tomorrow…and years to come

Much of what I discussed is framed within the context of the pandemic. However, it’s crucial to note that the solution you install shouldn’t be a short-term fix, unless if it’s for a temporary facility. You should adopt it with the intention of it being a long-term answer that can help in many situations.

The question, then becomes, where do you start? Look into partnering with a provider that will work with you by understanding your facility’s unique needs. The network surveillance solution should be adaptable, flexible and scalable, and it should integrate with other systems.

It’s uncertain how long the current health crisis will last. But what is certain is that network technology, such as low touch access control solutions, can help you navigate this uncertain future.

Learn more about how smart technology puts patients in focus: www.axis.com/en-us/solutions-by-industry/healthcare