Maintaining Good Health

Maintaining Good Health

Technology systems, including IP video, promote security that is essential to healing

Maintaining Good Health Technology systems, including IP video, promote security that is essential to healingHospitals offer patients a controlled environment that encourages rapid healing protected from the outside world. Yet, hospitals are open to the public and subject to many of the same security threats as the world at large. Hospital campuses are almost like micro-cities, housing numerous buildings and parking garages that are visited by hundreds, even thousands of people every day.

Because there is access 24-hours-a-day and a continuous flow of people coming and going, hospitals can have drama, too. The stress of family issues—whether stemming from custody disagreements about newborn infants or domestic violence that erupts in an emergency room—can threaten the safety and security hospitals depend on to function as intended. Patients, visitors and staff must be protected from the all-too-common violent outbursts that happen every day in society which can spill over into the healthcare setting.

Further complicating issues, hospitals have large stocks of drugs that must be secured.

In addition, healthcare facilities are large repositories of private patient information that, by law, must be protected. Compliance with the requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) includes a need for physical security measures to promote privacy of patient information.

Taken together, these requirements challenge the best capabilities security technology has to offer. Hospitals protect their facilities using a range of systems from video surveillance, alarms and access control to weapons screening, voice communication and asset management. Fortunately, new capabilities of IP video and information networks are expanding the security industry’s ability to provide protection to hospitals.

Statistics Highlight Security Challenges

The International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety (IAHSS) estimates that 98 percent of healthcare facilities experience violence and crime. In its 2012 Crime and Security Trends Study, IAHSS reported a total of 20,515 crimes among the 208 member healthcare organizations surveyed, showing increases of almost 37 percent since the previous survey just two years before. Crimes at healthcare facilities had increased in almost every category including simple assaults, larceny, thefts, vandalism, rape and sexual assaults. There were eight homicides reported among these surveyed organizations, the highest number ever reported in this survey.

The statistics point clearly to a need for greater vigilance when watching over people, facilities and assets on hospital premises. Video surveillance has long been a tool to enable hospitals to monitor their vast network of buildings, campuses and parking structures; however, some hospital surveillance systems are still using outdated analog systems that may not fully address the changing surveillance needs of hospitals. It’s time to upgrade and, for many, the need is critical for systems that perform better.

Regulatory Aspects of Hospital Security

Regulatory requirements promote the need for greater security in the hospital environment. One of the main organizations leading the way, as hospitals seek to provide the safest, highest-quality and best-value services, is The Joint Commission, a non-profit organization that certifies healthcare organizations across the United States based on each hospital’s commitment to performance and standards.

When certifying and overseeing healthcare institutions, the Joint Commission categorizes security breaches that could lead to accidental death or other significant impacts like “sentinel events.” Each hospital must perform a root cause analysis and implement preventive measures, including security. If a hospital doesn’t respond, it could be put on “accreditation watch,” which could put a hospital’s reputation at risk. In a real way, therefore, effective security is a basic requirement for hospitals to continue operating.

Protecting stored patient data is another regulatory requirement, this one mandated by HIPAA. Patient information may be contained in written form, such as patient charts that hospitals have used for many years, and is also increasingly stored electronically. Whether the data is in a file cabinet or on a computer server, it must be safeguarded.

Other entities mandate that hospitals ensure a safe setting for patients, visitors and employees, including regulations by OSHA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and NFPA.

Better Security Using Video Surveillance

As a component of overall hospital security, video surveillance has performed dependably and effectively for many years. Even analog images of what happens in various parts of a hospital can provide useful information; however, the emergence of IP video systems—and acceleration in the number of hospitals that use the systems—has greatly expanded the positive impact of video on hospital operations.

Deploying a robust, integrated and reliable IP video management solution offers remarkable advantages in promoting the safety and security of patients, employees and visitors. IP video provides clearer views of a hospital’s expansive infrastructure including psychiatric wards, parking garages, delivery docks, onsite pharmacies and the emergency department. And, higher-resolution IP cameras can quickly identify potentially dangerous situations so these events can be addressed without disturbing ongoing operations within the hospital.

One tool to manage higher-resolution video more effectively is video analytics, which can typically “watch” a specific scene and is programmed to alarm if something happens. The alarm could be based on motion in an area that is usually deserted or based on someone crossing a “virtual line” into a prohibited area. The use of video analytics to trigger video recording only when there is something to see enables less video to pass across the network. Other analytics can monitor scenes for changes in specific behavior that is outside the norm for a specific scene. This could be helpful in generating live alerts for security and could send video of the scene in question to security monitors.

To be effective, video systems need to both capture clear, high-quality images and provide them when and where they are needed. Video management software (VMS) must provide both live views and easy access to stored video. Access of video on mobile devices enables security personnel to be more productive and available to respond. If a violent incident is under way in the emergency room, security personnel need immediate access to video as the event unfolds. Likewise, if something was stolen from the pharmacy after hours, it should be easy to search through stored video to identify exactly what happened as well as when and who was involved. It should also be easy to save the video to be shared with law enforcement or used in a court of law.

Newer VMS solutions are easy to use and have advanced search capabilities to enable an operator fast and dependable access to needed video. It’s also easier to integrate video systems with other systems, such as intrusion detection and access control.

Safety Promotes Healing

Changes in how healthcare is being delivered are impacting the larger issue of healthcare security. New healthcare alternatives are surfacing as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and new medical complexes and smaller urgent care facilities are now part of the bigger picture. The broader healthcare community also includes educational campuses that teach medical practices to future doctors and nurses. Various institutions have many common security concerns, but each poses unique challenges.

As the U.S. healthcare market is currently undergoing fundamental adjustments, insurance reform and rising costs are changing many aspects of how hospitals operate. What must not change, however, is the devotion of resources and personnel to ensure safety of hospital facilities, assets and especially people.

Hospitals may be open to the public and subject to many of the same security threats as the world at large, but strategic use of technology can keep those threats from disrupting the environment essential to fulfill each hospital’s healing mission.

This article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of Security Today.

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