Handy Prescription

Hospital enhances healthcare facility security, saves money and deters misuse

A biometric device identifies a person via a unique human characteristic, such as the pattern of a fingerprint or the size and shape of a hand or face. As a result, biometrics ensure the bad guys stay out and the good guys get in to the hospital. When used for time and attendance applications, biometrics attest that the person clocking in is really who she says she is, eliminating timecard fraud caused by buddy punching.

Besides increased security, one of the biggest selling points for biometrics is that it can eliminate the need for keys or cards. While keys themselves don’t cost much— and price reductions have lowered the capital cost of cards—the true benefit of eliminating cards is realized through reduced administrative efforts.

That’s because a lost card or key must be replaced and reissued. There is a small price associated with completing this seemingly simple task but, when added up, the overall administration of a key or card system is costly. Hands and fingers are not lost, stolen or forgotten.

For those using cards, biometrics adds another layer of protection. For instance, if a badge is lost, during the time from when the badge is misplaced to the time that it is reported missing, that badge is still alive and active in the access control system. By adding a biometric to the access control system, a badge alone cannot be used to gain access. For instance, if your healthcare facility uses hand geometry technology, use of both the badge and the person’s hand are required. Thus, you have eliminated a prospective breach with a badgeonly system.

Of special importance to the healthcare industry, Schlage HandKey terminals for security applications and HandPunch terminals for time and attendance incorporate an advanced antimicrobial technology to reduce the spread of microorganisms on its platens, where the user rests her hand. A silver-based agent is embedded into the materials used to produce the platen of the biometric hand geometry units, providing a hygienic finish that resists bacterial degradation.

A Biometric Solution
Aspirus Wausau Hospital in Wausau, Wis., serves the healthcare needs of residents of Wausau and a 12-county region of northern and central Wisconsin. The hospital’s previous card-based system had reached capacity and would frequently freeze up.

Today, the healthcare facility uses 50 biometric hand readers to ensure only authorized people access hospital grounds. More than 3,000 Aspirus Wausau employees are enrolled in the biometric system.

The front entrance is locked down after visiting hours, ensuring only authorized people can enter. The hand readers are networked, and all security systems are monitored from the security department’s dispatch center.

“We chose biometrics because of the high cost of using access control cards,” said Greg Pehlke, security supervisor for the hospital. “We were spending $2,000 a month on smart cards with computer chips, which employees were simply loaning to unauthorized people. Much of this cost, and the security breaches, have been eliminated with the hand readers.”

Time and Attendance
More than 350 employees at Montgomery General Hospital in West Virginia use biometric HandPunch readers to clock in and out for their shifts, enabling the hospital to control overtime costs and eliminate buddy punching. The HandPunch interfaces with Genesis Pro time and attendance software from Time America.

“Prior to using the biometric system, we had a card swipe system,” said Janet Tharp, payroll manager at the hospital. “Some employees found out that they could lay their badge on a copier, copy it, laminate it and then use it to swipe in and out on the time clock. We had a department of six people where one person would swipe everyone else in and out.”

With hand geometry, however, employees could no longer practice fraudulent payroll procedures. The hospital has saved thousands of dollars as a result of using biometric technology.

“The system has cut costs by increasing productivity,” Tharp said. “The biometric system has eliminated overtime in departments where groups of people would cover for each other. They are now doing the job they are supposed to do in the area they are in, cutting out unnecessary overtime.”

Montgomery General Hospital uses seven of the biometric hand readers, which are located on each floor of the hospital, at the nursing home—a longterm care facility—and at the physician’s group.

The HandPunch is able to calculate pay differentials through the function keys. For example, nursing or Baylor pay—in which employees are paid 40 hours of the employee’s basic hourly rate of pay for working two 12-hour shifts within the period commencing at midnight on Friday and ending at midnight on Sunday—is different on weekends, which is accounted for by the system by pressing the appropriate key when clocking in and out.

In addition, Montgomery General Hospital is able to maximize the time and use of registered nurses who go from one department to another. Other systems required many more steps to record the transfer. With the HandPunch, it takes just one step to change the department.

“If it is made too hard, employees won’t do it,” Tharp said. “RNs simply enter in their function, job code and department.”

Tailored to the Application
Biometric readers can be stand-alone or networked and integrate easily into all popular access control and/or time and attendance systems. Best of all, in most cases, biometrics look just like a card reader to an access control system.

Stand-alone systems. Many biometrics are available in a stand-alone configuration. Such devices are not only a biometric, but also a complete door controller for a single door. Users are enrolled at the unit, and their biometric template is stored locally for subsequent comparison. The actual comparison is accomplished within the unit, and a lock output is energized depending on the outcome.

Networked systems. Most healthcare facilities need to control more than one door. While multiple stand-alone units could be employed, a network of biometric readers offers many advantages. The most obvious benefit is centralized monitoring of the system. Alarm conditions and activity for all the doors in the system are reported back to the security management system. All transactions are stored on the computer’s disk drive and can be recalled for a variety of user-customized reports.

Smart-card systems. Integrating biometrics with smart cards is fast becoming the de facto access control solution that leading resellers are adding onto the systems they sell. For instance, a single smart card can store both the user’s ID number and biometric template. Because of this, there is no need to distribute hand templates across a network of readers or require the access control system to manage biometric templates. This means integration to any existing access control application is greatly simplified, eliminating extra network infrastructure costs. Because the template only resides on the card, the solution also eases individual privacy concerns.

A smart-card reader is embedded into the biometric reader, and a plastic cardholder is affixed to the side of the unit. The verification process takes approximately one second and is virtually foolproof.

Third-party system integration. The most common way to integrate biometrics is through card-reader emulation. This method is effective when integrating into existing card-based systems to bring extra security to the front entrance, pharmacies, labs or the server room. The wiring is identical to the card reader’s wiring, and the biometric works with the access control panel exactly like a card reader.

A Healthier Security System
If the goal of an access control system is to control where people, not credentials, can and cannot go, only a biometric device truly provides this capability to hospitals and healthcare facilities. There are biometric systems available today that economically meet the needs of almost any healthcare access control application.


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