The healthcare market has changed quickly with the introduction of healthcare reform, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), and the high-tech focus in healthcare facilities.

Protecting data and patient communications is just one side of the security coin in the healthcare market; clinics and hospitals require physical security systems as well, providing a wide range of opportunities for electrical contractors to become part of the security integration team.

Best practices
In the past, healthcare providers had a siloed, or separated, approach to keeping their applications and data secure. This practice prevented the applications for medical records, lab results and pharmaceutical data from integrating well and required separate data security for each application.

“A phased approach to IT [information technology] controls around data is now considered a best practice because it allows the healthcare provider to extract and examine data and then apply access policy toward it. That prevents security breaches and unnecessary access to data,” said David Spence, marketing manager for Logic Trends, Roswell, Ga., a provider of identity and access management software services.

For physical security, best practices can be divided into nonclinical and clinical settings.

“Most nonclinical settings will require integrated cameras, card access and burglar alarm systems, all of which would incorporate parking entry and traffic flow areas,” said Roger Starnes, Southeast regional security and fire sales manager for Johnson Controls Inc., Milwaukee.

In clinical settings, however, the need to protect workers and patients in all areas is driving the practice of establishing high levels of system integration, including nurse-call and infant protection systems and the use of real-time locating systems (RTLS). An RTLS is a type of local positioning system that uses simple badges or tags attached to objects or people and readers that receive wireless signals from these tags to determine their locations.

The complexity of modern healthcare facility security systems also requires a command and control software system.

“A security officer today is responsible, for example, for 400 cameras, up to 500 card access readers, and up to 200 burglar alarm points,” Starnes said.

But a command and control system operates on alerts and event notification—rather than constantly monitoring multiple systems—and provides step-by-step guidelines for security personnel to take, based on the event’s nature, to ensure proper action and regulatory compliance.

“Smart cards allow healthcare facilities to implement many solutions on a single card, including access control, employee information, cashless vending, and network and data access,” according to Michael Esmond, senior sales executive at Siemens Industry Inc., Buffalo Grove, Ill.

In addition, Internet protocol-based video surveillance systems enable facility managers to use their existing IT backbone to set up camera networks, which keeps costs down.

“Other components being used on IP platforms include emergency phones and call stations and intercoms,” he said.

Electrical contractors looking to engage the healthcare security market need to keep current on security and operational standards development. For example, pharmacies must lock up all narcotics; medical records must be secured, as mandated by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA); and the federal government requires that all radioactive machines be protected.

“Interestingly, pharmacy and medical record security mandates only state that the areas must be secured but do not state how,” Esmond said.

The healthcare industry also is increasingly developing operational standards for controlling infectious diseases.

Now, since more healthcare security systems are using wireless technology and IP communications protocols, the electrical contractor’s work is shifting to communications closets.
“Contractors need to become IP-savvy, learn the different types of cables involved, and become more of a structured cabling provider,” Starnes said.

This is actually good news. As healthcare providers invest more heavily in technology to support automation and efficiency, “they will have to rely on the electrical contractor’s expertise in handling the infrastructure requirements,” Spence said.

Current demand for improved communication and patient care is predicted to continue, and the industry also expects to see more regulatory requirements.

“As the healthcare industry continues to consolidate, we will also see the need for systems that can communicate with existing security components at an enterprise level,” Starnes said.

Implementation of cutting-edge security technology, such as video walls, IP and megapixel cameras, smart cards, and long-term storage devices are all expanding opportunities for electrical contractors to be part of the security integration team.


BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 and darbremer@comcast.net.