Healthcare and labs | Access control

Healthcare and hospital security: Keep your hospital, people, and data safe with access control

Read how to use access control to secure your healthcare facility and manage security threats like public access points, limited staff, and policies.

20 min reading time

An image of hospital entrance with a clear access control signage restricting visitors

Updated on July 17, 2023

Written by Vera Eftimovska

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Every workplace should offer the safest possible environment to its people and visitors. Security is also vital to the already vulnerable hospital patients. To mitigate the rising security risks, it comes as no surprise hospital security policies are becoming even more strict.

As high-density locations, most hospitals are considered “soft targets” in security terms. The many access points, public accessibility, limited security personnel, and policies in place make healthcare institutions easy targets.

Data and privacy breaches, threats of violence, unwanted visitors, and drug thefts are among the many potential crime risks in a hospital setting. Healthcare facility stakeholders have the demanding task of balancing diverse groups’ needs while maintaining a safe and secure environment for their employees, patients, property, and data.

Kisi enables many healthcare organizations to focus on their core by deploying their user-friendly access control solution to take care of major security concerns. Kisi’s seamless access control system empowers healthcare professionals to provide quality patient care in a timely and cost-effective manner while enhancing overall patient satisfaction and experience.

What makes hospital and healthcare security unique? #

  • No working hours #

Unlike nine-to-five organizations, most hospitals are open 24/7 each day of the year to provide timely care. The hospital’s access control system should ensure staff, patient, and data safety throughout all hours of the day. Advanced access control systems that provide role-based privileges and lockdown options are necessary.

  • Valuable and regulated items #

While most companies only have to take care of the office equipment and their employees’ valuables, hospitals have much more to think about. From patient possessions to prescription drugs, securing these items from falling into the wrong hands can be a challenge.

User-friendly access control that provides specific visitor privileges can reduce the probability of possible theft. In case unpredicted accidents do happen, the user log will provide valuable data to assist in apprehending the culprit.

An image of a man in white coat accessing drugs in a stocked pharmacy
  • Numerous entry and exit points #

Hospitals have numerous entry and exit points to promote efficient, stress-free, timely movement of patients, staff, and visitors. Minimizing the unnecessary access points presents opportunities for avoiding security incidents, like unauthorized access, patient elopement, and infant abduction. Unfortunately, this is possible only in the initial phase. The excessive access points most hospitals have require additional access control equipment to deliver adequate security levels.

  • Easily accessible to the public #

Most of the time, offices are out of reach for the general public, so securing them with basic credentials usually works. Hospitals, on the other hand, should welcome everyone that needs care.

When denying access to the main entry point is not an option, hospitals must prioritize their most valuable spaces and implement appropriate role-based access control. For instance, the patients shouldn’t be able to roam freely around the pharmacy or gain access to other patients’ data.

  • Security Sensitive Areas #

Security Sensitive Areas (SSAs) refer to specific departments or areas in the healthcare facility more likely to experience security-related problems. They are especially vulnerable since they are environments with a significant potential for injury, abduction, or security loss that would likely severely impact the healthcare organization’s ability to provide high-quality patient care.

It goes without saying that enhanced access control is essential for securing hospital SSAs like emergency departments, pharmacies, and business offices. Solutions like Kisi provide better protection to employees, patients, data, and assets.

Image of a healthcare professional accessing digital healthcare information
  • Attractive targets due to storing of protected health information (PHI) #

A subset of personally identifiable information (PII), protected health information (PHI) refers to health information shared with HIPAA-covered entities. It includes medical records, lab reports, hospital bills, and any information relating to anyone’s past, present, or future physical or mental health.

Healthcare organizations are attractive targets due to the automation of clinical records triggering healthcare providers to collect more and more sensitive patient information.

Increasing cyber and physical security prevents likely data breaches, like loss, theft, or data spill. Hospitals can better protect PHI by upgrading to a more modern solution with advanced access control features.

The three things healthcare institutions must protect #

  • People #

An image showing emotional people waiting in a hospital next to an open door

From patients and their concerned families to the staff, people are the most significant thing a healthcare facility should protect. With people’s lives at stake, enhanced security is vital for healthcare facilities. The hospital waiting rooms are busy and crowded places. People with different problems, uncertain about their prospects, can be easily triggered to respond with violence.

The people-related security issues can range from the risk of harming or abducting vulnerable patients to patients being violent toward the staff. Given the government report that healthcare workers are five times more likely to experience workplace violence than employees in all other industries, these security concerns are only rising.

The hospital’s fast-paced and unpredictable nature attributes to the unusual and often irregular work schedules most medical professionals adhere to. Modern access control systems empower admins to support these inconsistent schedules while providing access only to the rooms hospital employees need.

Incorporating an access control system for remote visits limits the number of potential bad actors, creating a safer environment. Kisi protects your healthcare facility and people by simplifying on- and off-boarding, organizing different shifts, coordinating different access groups, and visitor management.

  • Assets #

Hospital crime significantly impacts healthcare economically and socially. These crimes range from an opportunity theft of items such as stethoscopes and thermometers to much higher value thefts. The culprits usually are a small percentage of staff, patients, and contractors.

The IAHSS Foundation reports in its 2022 Healthcare Crime Survey that burglary is the third most frequent crime after disorderly conduct and assault. With a previously declining trend, theft has unfortunately risen compared to 2021, with a rate of 5.7 per 100 beds.

A graph showing the 2012-2021 theft healthcare stats

Medical equipment theft costs healthcare organizations millions of dollars. It also drives up healthcare costs because organizations pass the costs on to future patients. These seemingly material crimes have the potential to cause direct patient harm. For example, if critical equipment goes missing when needed the most.

Keep your assets safe and lower burglary rates by implementing a modern access control system like Kisi. Protect the hospital and patients’ valuables by deploying access control based on the principle of least privilege, visitor management, and event logs.

  • Data #

Given the sensitivity of PHI, maintaining privacy and protecting data is paramount in healthcare. The majority of records are digital and are part of the healthcare organizations’ IT departments’ scope. Security and facilities personnel tackle additional data risks like safeguarding paper records.

Cybersecurity and physical security are interdependent. Digital data is more prone to breaches without proper access control.

According to IMB’s ‘The Cost of a Data Breach Report’, the healthcare industry breach cost has gone up 42% since 2020. At $10.10M average breach cost, healthcare has the highest average data breach cost of all industries for the 12th year in a row.

Stolen or compromised credentials were the most common cause of a data breach which took the longest time to identify (327 days). This attack vector costs $150,000 more than the average data breach cost.

Minimize the chance for stolen credentials or data breaches with Kisi’s mobile access, over-the-air updates, and leveraging integrations like Azure AD or Azure SSO.

Save Time. Enhance Security.

Modernize your access control with remote management and useful integrations.

Common Security Sensitive Areas (SSA) and access control #

  • Emergency department #

The never-ending working hours and volatile patient population, mixed with the presence of drugs, make the Emergency Department (ED) a unique area in the healthcare field that necessitates an advanced layer of security.

The access control set-up and general security should also anticipate violent acts and gang activity due to the frequent presence of behavioral health and forensic prisoner patients. The irregular patent surges and the possibility of contamination events contribute to the ED’s status as a bustling, hectic, strategically important area.

Some advanced access control systems, like Kisi, are designed to enhance security and compliance in healthcare facilities. Kisi can not only manage the access privileges of the different roles in the ED but also provide analytics for further protection and insight into who is coming and going. Implementing Kisi will also help reduce the spread of disease by enabling doors to be opened automatically for authorized users without physical touch.

  • Labor and delivery (L&D) and pediatrics #

Unlike the rest of the healthcare department, where there is a single vulnerable patient to worry about, considering both parent and child makes labor and delivery (L&D) security particularly challenging to manage. The possibility of infant abductions and the probability of domestic disturbances make these units unique concerns from a healthcare security perspective.

All healthcare staff should be able to access the area using keyless access control systems that log each entry to prevent incidents. Modern access control solutions like Kisi also take care of visitor management. For instance, each visitor can be granted access via a link to access the particular room for the needed time only. Integrating video surveillance will help in being vigilant when it comes to infant security.

Implementing advanced access control and security measures in the labor and delivery department is not enough to protect the children. The children in the pediatrics unit can be just as vulnerable as infants, yet healthcare facilities often devote relatively low resources to other young patients. Cloud-based access control allows you to expand your security for pediatric patients and manage everything from a single dashboard, anytime, anywhere. The regular over-the-air updates lower the IT staff effort and add an additional level of security to meet HIPAA compliance standards.

An image showing a healthcare worker cradling a newborn
  • Behavioral health and detox units #

41% of all assaults in healthcare institutions happen in psychiatric units. Many patients in the Behaviour Health and Detox units suffer from conditions that make them act irrationally and can exhibit potentially violent reactions without much warning. Enhanced access control can make these units that face unique security concerns more secure.

Strengthen your entry and exit procedures with cloud-based access control to minimize risks and vulnerabilities. Solutions like Kisi will improve visitor management and allow you to grant different access privileges to different groups within the Behavioral Health facility. Integrating it with the video surveillance system and other security equipment, like motion sensors and alarms, will make your staff feel safe and increase retention.

  • Pharmacy #

Due to the presence of drugs, other controlled substances, and in some cases, cash, both inpatient and outpatient pharmacies have a high risk of theft and robbery and require enhanced security.

Found within the premises of the healthcare facility, the inpatient pharmacies typically stock a variety of medications for patients. Authorized individuals should be able to easily access the pharmacy to dispense and control medications for patients within the hospital. Not having signage directing individuals to the pharmacy space is rarely enough to discourage theft.

A modern access control system, like Kisi, will restrict access to the right people and enable hospital pharmacies to identify all visitors before allowing them to enter. The security camera integrations will also contribute to monitoring all egress and ingress points and potential bad actors. The intrusion detection and panic alarm integrations will further protect this high-risk area.

Outpatient pharmacies are usually off-campus. When on hospital property, they are in high-traffic areas like hospital lobbies. Many outpatient pharmacies lease their space and are not owned or managed by the hospital. The retail component to sell over-the-counter medications and other drug store items most of these pharmacies have similarly requires enhanced security and access control practices.

The five levels of hospital protection #

Layered security encompasses concentric layers of security measures that protect valuable assets behind multiple barriers. The goal is to design each security layer to delay an intruder or attacker as long as possible moving inwards from the outer perimeter.

The International Association of Healthcare Security and Safety (IAHSS) defined the following five layers of protection:

1. Property perimeter #

The property’s perimeter, as the first layer of protection, limits points of entry. Fences, landscape, or other barriers usually define the campus perimeter, while this includes the building exterior at specific locations.

As essential parts of communities, healthcare facilities should project a welcoming image. Since fence or barbed wire is rarely an option in a hospital setting, having a site open to the public brings certain security challenges. Finding the balance between establishing a welcoming and safe environment is crucial. Still, campus entry points should be controllable during emergencies or heightened security levels.

An image showing the property perimeter of a healthcare instituion

Access control and securing the property perimeter

The public should have access to the healthcare facility, so installing an access control system at the gates is not recommended. What physical security systems can do is save you time and money.

By installing video surveillance, you can monitor a larger area and accomplish more security tasks with fewer employees. This way, you’ll know who's accessing your public spaces as an early warning for potential problems. For maximum protection and to help investigate possible incidents, integrate your surveillance and access control systems.

2. Building Perimeter #

The second layer of protection – the building perimeter represents the first line of defense. It consists of doors, windows, and other openings. It serves a simple goal - enabling the public and staff to enter their designated entrances.

Securing the building perimeter with access control

A modern access control solution is crucial in securing the building perimeter. All exterior doors, excluding the specified public entrances, should include access control.

Your access control system should come with intrusion detection and seamlessly integrate with your video surveillance. That would also help your personnel control and screen selected entrances.

Intrusion detection prevents unauthorized access, and systems like Kisi will even notify your admins if a door is propped open. The lockdown function can come in handy as well. It allows security admins to quickly lock all exterior doors in case of an impending incident.

3. Authorized and unauthorized building visitors #

The third layer of protection focuses on segregating authorized and unauthorized building visitors and takes place inside the building. Most healthcare facilities apply this security layer to higher-risk areas like emergency units, mental health areas, and other SSAs.

Authorized and unauthorized visitors management with access control

Signage like “Authorized Personnel Only” might be effective for keeping most of the public at bay, but it is never enough to keep intruders from entering controlled or limited access areas.

The high rates of security incidents healthcare SSAs usually experience necessitate access control readers at all entries to the area. The lockdown function, modern access control systems like Kisi offer, will allow admins to lock the department’s doors from anywhere in case of an incident.

Providing a visitor credential is an added layer of security. For example, you could issue a newborn’s father an access control card or fob that allows him to access the labor and delivery areas only. What you can also do with Kisi is save time and money on issuing credentials and send a visitor link instead. That way, the visitors can access the specified areas with a click from their mobile.

4. Separating public and patient areas from staff-only areas #

Similar to the third, the fourth layer of protection is about separating the generally accessible public and patient areas and the staff-only areas.

Securing staff-only areas with access control

Access control hardware at the entry is necessary for locking the staff-only areas and granting access only to staff. The fourth layer of protection is applicable to areas such as nursing offices, research labs, staff locker rooms, storage and distribution locations, food preparation, and sterile corridors.

Considering the increasing turnover rates, a modern cloud-based system like Kisi empowers admins to grant and revoke staff access rights and accommodate the always-changing schedules - anywhere, anytime.

An image showing a person accessing patient data

5. Restricting staff access to highly sensitive areas #

The fifth layer of protection encompasses further restricting staff access to highly sensitive areas. Access control hardware comes to play here as well, enabling you to grant access to specific areas only to authorized staff. The pharmacy and narcotic storage, the spaces with hazardous materials, plant utility and IT infrastructure, and areas housing personal health information (PHI) are the places only certain staff members should access.

Managing access to different healthcare staff groups

The principle of least privilege is a popular security concept that encourages granting the user the minimum levels of access or permissions needed to perform their job. Finding an access control solution, like Kisi, that follows this principle is crucial for securing your healthcare facility. Kisi enables you to grant different access rights to different groups within your organization. For instance, you can make a group with all the pharmacy staff only and grant that group access to the pharmacy door.

When pondering the security for such areas, remember to check if they are in accordance with applicable regulatory oversight, standards, and guidelines. Modern access control systems like Kisi keep hospitals, and outpatient clinics secure and SOC II compliant.

How important are hospital access control systems? #

Healthcare facilities are a challenging environment for security. Patients need to perceive hospitals as an open, welcoming, and caring environment where family and friends can visit and provide support. The healthcare staff should feel comfortable and safe coming to work so they can provide seamless care.

The different reasons and types of visitors, the presence of drugs, and the stress on visitors and staff make healthcare security even more challenging. A layered security approach supported by a modern, cloud-based access control system like Kisi helps make healthcare facilities welcoming, safe, and secure for patients, visitors, and staff. It accommodates changing work schedules and shifts, eases visitor management, and helps hospitals be HIPAA and SOC II compliant. The role-based access control following the principle of least privilege, intrusion detection and lockdown options enhance SSAs’ security. Integrating the access control system with other security measures, like CCTV cameras, alarms, and panic buttons, adds an additional layer of security.

An overly aggressive security presence and systems can feel intimidating and be off-putting to patients and visitors. Kisi’s sleek, award-winning design will feel welcoming while providing the necessary security. The top-rated Kisi dashboard will save your admins time and nerves. Contact us to see how Kisi can enhance and modernize your healthcare facility’s security while following your unique access control migration path.

Vera Eftimovska

Senior Content Strategist at Kisi, eager to craft the next access control story. Connecting people and spaces with person-centered yet reliable, data-based security content.

Save time. Enhance security.

Modernize your access control with remote management and useful integrations.