Improving healthcare and operational efficiencies with modern security solutions

Paul Baratta

Healthcare facilities are some of the most demanding and complex businesses to operate and secure.  Hospital logistics involve constant movement among staff and patients that breed inefficiencies—both in terms of costs and processes—and can raise safety concerns. Nonetheless, it is essential that all individuals and objects have the ability to flow freely. For example, it’s critical for staff to move throughout their facility without restriction, for patients to move or relocate with ease and for their families to accompany them with relative effortlessness. Furthermore, it’s vital that staff members and other approved personnel have easy access to medical records and medicine for immediate patient care. These are just some examples of hospital logistics.

The million dollar question is: How can healthcare facilities—particularly large hospitals—improve the flow of operations and information at a reasonable cost?

The answer is one you may not have considered: security solutions.

Proper incorporation of modern security solutions into healthcare settings offer dramatic benefits beyond safety and involve improved operational efficiency and quality of care.

Security is an investment that, when used appropriately, can increase the efficacy of pre-existing tasks while reducing short-term and long-term costs, as well as preexisting risks. This creates a substantial return on investment.

The benefits brought by multifunctional security systems, such as the prevention of and the decrease in safety concerns and smoother operations, make the cost of security products small in comparison to the budget-killing additional security costs caused by remediable inefficiencies. Meanwhile, smoother operations increase the quality of patient care and overall patient and staff satisfaction.

In this article, we will review current complications of healthcare facilities and some of the latest technological options and advances that will enhance service, operations and safety in today’s modern healthcare facilities.

Security gaps and its effect on healthcare

When gaps exist in physical security, hospitals jeopardize their safety and run the risk that other security gaps appear, whether it be a lack of safeguards in place to protect patients, staff, data or assets.

Some areas in hospitals are closed off for security and privacy reasons, while others are blocked to keep out unnecessary traffic. But, overall, hospitals have an open-door policy, meaning anyone is welcome to walk through, particularly in emergency departments and emergency rooms. In a setting where walk-ins are a large part of business, unidentified people or patients are security risks.

Improving hospital care and efficiency

As analytic and biometric technologies improve, they’ll become an even more essential part of the inner workings of hospitals because they help staff provide high quality care. Biometrics is technology that identifies individuals under surveillance, while analytics gather and analyzes data. When compounded with surveillance cameras, these solutions provide critical information that improves quality of care and operational efficiencies.

Let’s look at some of the specific problems currently plaguing the healthcare industry and the role analytics, biometrics and other security solutions can play in reducing them.

Negative outcomes from insufficient security

Managing and protecting facilities starts with recognizing where problems and potential issues exist and implementing the appropriate security solutions to monitor and safeguard these areas. Security fortification wards off violence, crime, theft, and it also increases workers’ efficiency, which improves performance.

It is important to understand environments and the nature by which events can take place within specific settings. Some preventable crimes that can occur within a healthcare facility include:

Workplace violence: Due to stressful environments, violent behavior is always a concern as patients may arrive sick, nervous and often emotionally vulnerable while waiting for results. This, however, puts the staff at risk. Numbers actually suggest that hospitals need to make a more concerted effort to protect nurses and other staff members. A recent study commissioned by the Emergency Nurses Association of 7,169 emergency nurses found that in a seven day period where participants worked 37 hours, the frequency of verbal abuse and physical violence was high at over 54 percent. The same report noted that most victims of workplace violence never formally filed a report with their facility. Reflecting only reported cases, these statistics are still too high.

Certain areas of the hospital are more prone to workplace violence than others too. Parking lots and garages are the leading place for physical and sexual assault, and yet they typically have poor lighting and often lack proper surveillance cameras and emergency call boxes. Areas such as these are prime for perpetrators, which is another reason hospitals should better monitor traffic.

Asset protection: In addition to personal safety, hospitals must also protect their assets, property and supplies. No hospital is without risk so it is important to effectively protect all of these while maintaining a proper balance between an open-door policy and stringent security systems. The Threat Analysis Group noted, regarding hospital security, that hospitals must define what their assets are, namely the things that are critical to their mission, and they must create a protection plan so people do not gain unauthorized access to assets, which include but are not limited to:

  • Patients
  • Support personnel
  • Staff
  • Supplies
  • Equipment
  • Medical records
  • Pharmaceuticals

Too often these assets are under threat because hospitals spend time reactively implementing security protocols instead of proactively finding ways to safeguard the organization. By not implementing security preemptively, a multitude of additional security problems can occur. Gaps in security, for example, will create gaps in a hospital’s budget. Constantly implementing security geared towards one specific security breach is costly and inefficient. Furthermore, if someone gains unauthorized access to these assets, it can cause a huge setback in patient care and impact budget.

One additional asset, although not monetarily quantifiable, is a hospital’s reputation, which patients often consider when deciding where to be treated. I believe that hospitals with poor security measures are perceived as also having worse patient care and low satisfaction rates compared to facilities with topnotch security. Security breaches are costly, both in damage to reputation and in remedial costs, therefore preventative security measures are the best solution in safety, budget optimization and as a reputation reinforcer.

Data privacy: Healthcare facilities are facing a new set of challenges due to recently digitized healthcare records; cybercriminals now have easier access to patients’ personal information. In 2017, many patient records were compromised. Records need to be protected, and to ensure they are hospitals should:

  1. Install proper access control solutions, which grant access only to approved individuals.
  2. Use thermal technology, which monitor important areas at all times of day and night.
  3. Encrypt medical devices so cybercriminals can’t gain access to and steal critical data.
  4. Secure devices, which pose a risk to patients and hospital networks.

Cyber theft is an increasingly growing threat in healthcare. To stay protected, hospitals must password protect security devices, HVAC systems and other monitoring technology, which are all vulnerable and often overlooked. They must also encrypt medical devices so criminals can’t steal private data. These simple preventative measures will substantially protect patients’ information and the hospital.

Staff to patient ratio: Another challenge affecting the healthcare industry is the ratio of nurses to patients. Due to understaffing, demand on budgets create drastic inefficiencies that cause hospitals to incur additional, unforeseen costs. Nurses are forced to react to patient needs instead of proactively assisting, even as situations become increasingly complex.

Staffing numbers have a direct effect on security practices. When staffing is low, security incurs the damage. Overtired nurses are more likely to make mistakes involving medication and care—all safety and security concerns. In turn, this can lead to lower retention rates as nurses look for more favorable working environments, causing hospitals to incur substantial overhead costs.

Understaffed hospitals face incredible pressure to treat patients and ensure personnel follow the correct safety protocols. If they’re not, they may hire inexpensive labor and potentially underqualified staff, which can cause additional security problems.

Associations exist between nurse-to-patient ratios and patient mortality, failure-to-rescue among surgical patients, and nurse retention. In fact, for each additional patient assigned to a nurse had a 7 percent higher chance of dying within 30 days of admission and in failure to rescue within 30 days of admission. Hospitals try to correct these issues by using mandatory and voluntary overtime, but this practice can lead to nurse burnout, fatigue or more frequent medical errors that jeopardize the patients’ well-being.

Adding to these challenges is the fact that not all patients, and the care they require, are the same. There are patients who need constant monitoring, such as those with Alzheimer’s, high-risk, infants, etc. And I believe that the costs of having a nurse watch a patient are monumentally high, requiring a significant investment of resources.

The solution to efficiency problems is advanced technology

Technologies exist that can reduce these costs and help nurses balance their patient’s needs while providing quality care. For example, the Wachter mobile observation cart is a powerful observation tool used for efficient and safe patient monitoring.  Containing a high definition video camera, two-way audio communication, and multi-language audio and video notifications, the Wachter mobile observation cart gives facilities a virtual window into the patient’s condition and status, which a nurse can interact with remotely from his or her station. This tool can increase operationally efficiency and improve the quality of patient care, which is likely to increase patient satisfaction.

Other examples of security solutions that can enhance a hospital’s safety and security, and increase patient and staff satisfaction include:

Audio analytics: Audio analytics embedded in surveillance cameras continuously analyzes sounds for certain characteristics, and it identifies distortions in otherwise consistent sound patterns. This can help personnel not only detect potential threats but possibly predict crime before it happens.

Audio analytics can also detect and issue alerts for things like breaking glass, gun shots and verbal aggression. Audio analytics works by identifying how people say something (not by what they’re saying). For example, if people are shouting, surveillance solutions equipped with analytics will take into consideration their pitch, decibel level and the speed of the conversation. Nearby cameras will pick up the audio and turn and focus on that particular area. This is especially valuable in an active shooter situation when trying to detect the perpetrator and control the situation quickly.

By adding audio analytics, security is tighter, costs are reduced and patient care increases.

People counting: Access to detailed, real-time insights about visitor behavior is a core competitive advantage in the healthcare industry. People counting analytics software, when installed in security cameras, automatically counts in real time the number of people passing under a camera and in which direction.

With people counting analytics, hospitals can optimize staffing schedules and daily operations, and analyze and share relevant statistics. The ability to observe which times of day are the busiest is valuable when trying to staff appropriately.

In monitoring queues, people counting technology shows how long patients are waiting and where bottlenecks exist. This provides healthcare facilities the chance to adjust scheduling.

Furthermore, people counting technology gives insight into potential threatening situations by watching entrances and footfall. These analytics can detect tailgating—gaining unauthorized access to a secured area by closely following a person with authorized access—and it gives facilities the ability to track certain areas, such as emergency or patient rooms, and alert personnel based on predefined criteria.

People counting technology equipped with an available loitering function can be important solutions for ED/ER by identifying when additional staff may be needed to support a vulnerable area. In addition, this type of solution can help personnel identify when they need to increase staffing levels. Customizable software that can be installed in security cameras can help monitor, evaluate and report on these issues and help drive efficiencies and business operations, while at the same time improve safety and security in very vulnerable areas.

HIPAA privacy rule: The privacy of patients and their medical and personal data is another primary area of concern when it comes to safety and security in healthcare facilities. The HIPAA Privacy Rule, according to The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, requires hospitals to ensure patients’ health information remains private. As medical records have moved from paper to electronic formats and without proper security measures, it has created an opportunity for criminals to compromise and abuse patients’ personal information.

Current practices regarding the HIPAA Privacy Rule have proven insufficient in protecting patient privacy as demonstrated by the increasing number of security breaches in the healthcare industry recently. Incautious and reactive practices are irresponsible measures that violate HIPAA Privacy rules. There are many technologies available for use in optimizing processes within hospitals that do not compromise HIPAA privacy rules and offer increased security measures.

Who shapes the future of hospitals?

The future of safe, efficient, HIPAA-abiding hospitals lies in the hands of proactive technological solutions. Patients and staff are in need of forward-thinking solutions in an ever-evolving and dynamic healthcare industry. In addition to the added security provided, hospital processes can be optimized while nurse potential is accentuated. Patient experiences and a healthy workplace environment are of the utmost importance and should be a priority for all hospitals.

The implementation of analytics and biometrics is a proactive measure to optimize hospital strategy and safety, and modern security solutions overall give hospitals the ability to shape the future, as opposed to falling victim to it.

Learn more

Want to know how to improve your healthcare facility’s service and security? Register for our webinar, “How Security Solutions are Transforming Hospital Operations.” We’ll discuss how using an advanced security surveillance solution can help minimize violence and increase business efficiency, and more.

Register for our webinar