Managing Access Control in Hospitals

By Patrick Chown, Owner and President, Safe and Sound Security
Twitter: @SafeAndSoundCA

The security of the hospital and its assets is a primary concern for hospital facility managers. A hospital houses vulnerable patients, regulated drugs, and plenty of sensitive data. Safeguarding these from any malicious actors is critical to ensure smooth hospital operations.

Hospitals have to accommodate a high level of traffic. This includes patients, visitors, employees, contractors, suppliers, etc. It is easy for someone to blend in with the traffic, access unauthorized areas of the hospital, and/or inflict damage. To prevent such security instances, you need a strong access control mechanism in place.

Access control in hospitals

Access control systems provide physical security to the hospital building and its assets. It does so by ensuring only authorized personnel have access to the hospital infrastructure. For example, a patient or visitor to the hospital should not have access to the drug room of the hospital. A properly set up access control prevents access to unauthorized individuals from the drug room. It also ensures pharmacists and authorized personnel can access the drug room.

The two facets of access control systems used in hospitals are security and easy access. Security is preventing unauthorized access is just one side of access control systems. The other side is ensuring authorized personnel have adequate access with ease. Access control systems are important to ensure the security of hospital infrastructure. With this in mind, how you design and manage access control is critical. The following sections cover the major considerations you need to have while setting up an access control system for your hospital.


The layout of the hospital building is the first thing to consider while designing the access control system. The various sections of the hospital infrastructure with different access levels should be separated. The areas that require the highest access level should be the most remote place in the infrastructure. Areas that have the highest access level should not be placed before areas that require low access levels. You have to be wary of many such design considerations before installing an access control system. It is advisable to avail the services of experts in access control systems to design and implement access control in your hospital building.

Role-based access

Thousands of individuals will require access to your hospital infrastructure. Defining and creating separate access profiles for each individual is cumbersome and wasteful. The better solution is to create different roles with different access profiles. You can assign the appropriate roles to each individual and the respective access profile will be automatically assigned. For example, you can create separate roles for oncologists, cardiologists, nurses, pharmacists, etc with different access profiles. You just have to assign the role to an individual to map the predefined access profile.


All access points have a lock and mechanism to detect authorization. The authorization mechanism could range from physical keys to biometrics. Keycards, magnetic strips, RFID cards, NFC, etc are also used for authorization. All these mechanisms do not work universally.

For example, if your infrastructure requires authorization for visitors, it does not make sense to register biometric data for each and every visitor. Simpler authorization techniques like RFID cards work better as each card can be reassigned easily. Employees need access to more restricted areas of the hospital. Their authorization should not be compromised. RFID cards can be easily spoofed. It is better to rely on biometrics for authorizing employees.

As you can imagine, for an access mechanism you can opt from a plethora of choices. Each of the choices has its own benefits and limitations. The mechanisms you choose should ultimately fit your requirements without compromising safety.

Monitoring, logging, and alerts

You need to have a monitoring system in place to track all the activities in your infrastructure. The information also has to be logged and securely saved. This helps to track down who accessed different areas in case of trouble. Real-time monitoring can help in identifying anomalous activities in your infrastructure. Such detections have to be investigated to ensure everything is safe and secure. You can also create alerts for some incidents to notify security personnel of your hospital. Installing alarm systems can be considered for security breaches of the highest degree.

Least privilege

The principle of least privilege gives personnel the minimum access to perform their duties in full and nothing more. It is a security measure to limit giving authorization to areas that are not part of their tasks. For example, a pharmacist needs access to the hospital building and pharmacy. But she does not need access to operation theaters or X-Ray machines. You only need to give pharmacists the minimum areas she requires to perform her duties. The principle of least privilege has to be considered while creating access profiles for various roles.

Maintenance and testing

Regular maintenance has to be performed on access control systems. This ensures the system does not fail under unexpected circumstances. You need to regularly update the firmware and software of security installations. In addition to these measures, it is also wise to conduct penetration testing to identify if your access control system has any loopholes. Such testing helps you to patch up your security before it becomes a problem.

Final words…

You need to recognize the importance of access control systems in the security of your hospital infrastructure. It is essential to safeguard employees, patients, and hospital assets. You need a good strategy to enable easy access to authorized personnel without compromising security. A well designed access system blends in the background enabling smooth hospital operations.