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Prescribing IP access control for clever security applications

Exploring creative ways in which hospitals implement IP access control to safeguard assets and people


In my last column, I discussed how more universities are upgrading to IP access control and leveraging newer wireless and cloud-enabled devices to minimize costs. I also explained how universities are capitalizing on their IP access control systems to implement clever applications which create operational improvements and better campus life for everyone.

Much like these universities, hospitals are following a similar trend. Both have campus-style environments with numerous buildings spanning vast sites. Both comprise wide-open public spaces, welcome the general public and strive to find a balance between accessibility and security. Hospitals are also dealing with archaic access control systems and looking for ways to leverage their network infrastructure to improve operations. The similarities go on, even concerning often limited resources and budgets.

In reality, there is a lot in the previous article that can be applied to hospitals, especially regarding the benefits of choosing newer wireless and cloud-enabled hardware for an easier and more cost-effective transition to IP access control. Streamlining the lost card process by leveraging intercom and video surveillance integrations, and developing one-card applications are also quite effective in a hospital environment. However, there are many more unique access control applications that are pertinent to hospitals, and in this article, I will shed light on how some hospitals are using IP access control to do far more than just lock and unlock doors. 

Protecting medicine dispensaries and labs

Given the very nature of hospitals, powerful narcotics and medicines are always readily available. While more hospitals have implemented regulations and policies surrounding access to and distribution of drugs, there are still potential vulnerabilities lurking. Internal theft and abuse of privileges still creep up now and again, so hospitals are always looking for better ways to maintain control of such sensitive areas. For instance, some hospitals are installing IP access control readers at the drug cabinets. This allows them to digitally control who has access to the cabinets, during specific times.

In case any fraud is suspected, management can run reports to see which cabinets were accessed and by whom. By unifying the access control with video surveillance, operators can also retrieve an access control event with the correlated video recording, to see if the person wiping the badge was, in fact, the authorized individual. Other hospitals have dual-authentications setup, where two people must be present at once when accessing the drug cabinets. When one card is presented to the reader, the system will wait for another authorized cardholder to present their badge before unlocking the door. This ensures additional levels of adherence to policies and minimize risks.

The same applies to labs and other highly-sensitive locations within a hospital. For example, certain equipment can only be handled by personnel with specific skill levels and hospital policies might dictate the need for two people to be present at the time of use. Again, requiring two people to present their badges at the door can be set up as a system rule. Dual authentication can also be set up as with biometric readers and pin pads in addition to the access card. 

Keeping babies and dementia patients safe

Whilst thankfully uncommon, there have been instances of kidnappings of new-born babies from hospitals in the UK. In order to better secure access to these areas, hospitals are reinforcing nurseries with IP access control, limiting access to authorized personnel only. For parents and family who visit the ward, visitor badges can also be provided. Rules and access control privileges assigned to the visitor badge ensure that they can only enter during designated visitor hours and with the company of an authorized nurse.

Some hospitals are also integrating their video surveillance and access control system with asset tracking systems to further protect new-borns and dementia patients who might wonder. Patient wrist bands can include radio frequency identification (RFID) chips which can be monitored by security departments in real-time. With a little configuration, security departments can also set up alarms that will alert operators and nurses if an RFID tag is detected within a certain distance from the ward. This allows personnel to immediately address the situation before the patient has either left or been taken too far. 

Securing access to digital patient files

As more hospitals move to digital filing systems to track patient information and treatments, protecting access to these files become that much more pertinent. An easy way to prevent unauthorized access to computers and sensitive information is by attaching an IP access control reader at a workstation. To access patient files, the nurse or doctor simply needs to tap their badge at the reader and then possibly also enter their credentials and password.

Using Active Directory integration, all logical and physical access rights can be synced, so when any modifications are made a cardholder account, both systems are updated in real-time. For example, if an employee were to be fired, immediate deactivation of their card would deny them entry to the filing system and any patient information.

Doing more with a unified approach

As more hospitals turn to IP security solutions to keep their patients and staff safe, more clever applications are being developed. IP access control is just one system amongst many that are being leveraged for tighter security and improved operations. In fact, many hospitals are taking a unified approach to security, investing in security platforms such as Genetec Security Center, to bring all integral hospital systems under one centralized solution. Merging IP access control with video surveillance, automatic number plate recognition, intercom, asset tracking, nurse call stations, fire alarm panels, and intrusion detection systems help security departments get a birds-eye-view of their environment, improving their overall effectiveness at mitigating threats as quickly as possible. 

This article was published in Surveillance Magazine on August 26, 2015.  Click here to view the original article