Access control for healthcare

Access control for healthcare

Security Middle East looks at healthcare security and visitor management solutions for the current medical crisis

In the region’s hit hardest by the covid-19 pandemic, the healthcare systems have struggled to cope. China, Iran, Italy and Spain are worst affected at the time of writing, but that may quickly change as other countries look certain to catch up.

In each case, the pandemic has followed a similar, and rather dreadful pattern: as hospital admissions soared, medical teams became overworked, then clinicians were hit by infections themselves, and their capacity to deliver care was further eroded – meanwhile more patients continued to arrive in need of increasingly rationed intensive care treatment. And while doctors struggled, the systems they worked within were also severely stressed.

The result, apart from the rising number of premature deaths, has been an economic hit on a scale that we’ve barely begun to assess. It’s sobering that the dangers of a pandemic have been long known about and warned of, but still – with one or two notable exceptions, including South Korea and Singapore – health systems and governments have struggled to organise and to allocate resources.

Put simply, most of the world was not adequately prepared. In the months ahead many experts (and risk management professionals will certainly be among them) will argue for lessons to be properly learned and reforms to be introduced. If they are, we might hope to be protected against the even more deadly pandemic that will definitely, one day, follow this one. Watch this space.

But our focus, in this article is to look at practical security and management solutions for healthcare settings today. So we’ve picked out two that are already available and being applied to help systems cope during these times of high pressure.

One is a streamlined security and management solution, combining Quanika’s software platform with AXIS hardware, which is being deployed in a project covering almost two hundred clinical centres for the UK’s NHS. The other is a biometric access solution from Invixium that’s proving itself in high security biomedical applications.

Working with AXIS hardware, Quanika specialises in streamlining security, access and visitor management systems.

Technical sales manager Abdul Bassett says the benefits of the company’s approach to integration are demonstrated by a joint development agreed between IT and security departments and senior management at the NHS.

“The priority at the moment is for managers to be able to deploy medical teams flexibly – this was important before, but now it’s crucial,” he told Security Middle East.

With large numbers of new staff being signed on to work across multiple NHS sites, including thousands of recently retired medics who have agreed to return to work, there is a real challenge around managing access.
“Authorisations need to be issued and secure access allowed for all these people. That’s a major organisational task.”

For the NHS, he says, Quanika’s solution will allow thousands of ‘floating staff’ to be kept moving between locations, deployed each day to where they are most needed – without log-jams and confusion.

It’s not just temporary employees and contractors that need to be managed by the system but regular team members who become unable to work, either because they are self-isolating or receiving treatment themselves. This level of staffing turnover and unpredictability poses a significant challenge to security and operational efficiency.

Hospitals must be kept secure – temporary staff need to prove access authorisation for each location, every day – but at the same time delays and inconvenience need to be minimised.

“Quanika’s solution aims to make this complexity simpler to manage by allowing the service’s disparate legacy systems to be linked together.” adds Bassett.

Employee data from Microsoft Active Directory is being used to populate a new, unified access control and visitor management system. With this approach, staff onboarding and offboarding is much faster. PINs and/or QR codes can be sent to each staff member, giving them access to the specific site where they are needed. On arrival, they simply enter the PIN or hold the QR code up to the intercom to gain access to the site, including to the car park and, where applicable, Axis LPR (license plate recognition).

The Quanika solution also makes it easy for updated, site-specific instructions to be sent via email, SMS or apps, helping to streamline operations and avoid mistakes.

“We’ve also made it easy to include other user groups in the visitor management system, including contractors, visitors and outpatients,” adds Bassett. “The important thing about our solution is that it’s not just designed to help in this current emergency. It will continue to deliver efficiency and security benefits once we get back to more normal times – and it will mean the hospitals are better prepared for future challenges too.”

Advantage of contact-free biometrics
Invixium’s IXM TITAN solution has been deployed for access control at high-security research labs in the biotech industry, and the company argues that its approach to biometrics offers a number of advantages for healthcare sites, and wider use in hospitals, in the current emergency.

It makes the case that biometric authentication can be more secure than access cards, pin codes, passwords and punch cards, and that it also reduces transmission risks when used for access control and employee time tracking. Bearing in mind the risk of transmission via contact – which although small is still real – we recommend that all industries consider touchless biometrics, such as facial recognition, as an alternative to fingerprint,” says CEO Shiraz Kapadia.

He says the TITAN technology has been selected for biotech applications after evaluation against other biometric solutions – plus points include its durable metal exterior, 5.0” LCD display, extensive user capacity and the fact that it is manufactured in Canada.

“Similarly, hospitals and pharmacies should also consider touchless biometrics to restrict access to supply and inventory rooms and, at the same time, ensure employee safety,” Mr Kapadia adds.

For organizations that continue to operate during the current emergency – particularly those under stress, including front-line care, and essential medical supply and logistics services – efficient workforce management will become more important than ever.

The TITAN solution’s fast authentication speed (15-18 faces per minute) offers a high throughput, which can reduce queuing during shift changes and cut the risk of transmission between employees.

TITAN offers the benefits of high storage capacity (100,000 users) and an identification speed of less than 1 second. It can be deployed internally and externally so that, for example, unauthorised visitors can be kept outside and required to use intercom to request access. This provides further opportunities for sterile area rules to be enforced before access is granted.And users have the option of combining up to 4 factors of authentication. If the driving need is for a touchless system, customers can leverage ‘one-to-many’ matching or easily implement dual-factor authentication with ‘card-plus-face’. When in 1:1 mode, the camera can be configured to activate only when a user presents their access card to avoid privacy concerns around passive surveillance.

The technology works within a wider ecosystem of Invixium biometric products, in conjunction with IXM WEB web-based software which is integrated with access control manufacturers including Honeywell, Siemens, Genetec, Gallagher, RS2 Technologies, Paxton, Feenics, Galaxy Control Systems, and others.

“The security of the infrastructure and payroll of employees remains just as important, even in the current healthcare emergency,” adds Mr Kapadia.

Indeed – while we’re all busy focusing on the current exceptional circumstances, it will be important to remember all those other risks to security which haven’t gone away.

If anything, many of them will have been amplified.

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