Health Care Trends Shaping Security & Infection Control

Health Care Trends Shaping Security & Infection Control

Accelerated by the pandemic, health care has changed significantly over the last few years, in areas including telemedicine, insurance, drug affordability, demand for talent and focus on the patient experience. Health care environments are unique, as they must provide for various conditions and offer healing environments ideal for patients with varying needs. Life safety and cleanliness have elevated and been prioritized significantly more than they were pre-COVID. Beyond PPE and touchless technology, many facilities have implemented technology and safety measures aimed at protecting people and physical assets.

To better understand these trends and how health care facilities have evolved, Allegion conducted survey with input from 100 decision makers across leading U.S. health systems including Ascension Health, HCA Healthcare, John Hopkins Medicine and Kaiser Permanente. The team conducted a similar survey in 2016, which provides a nice benchmark for recent developments around electronic access control adoption, which was on the rise before 2020. Over the last five years specifically, electronic usage has evolved, and there are more accommodations for patients with disabilities and behavioral health conditions.

Let’s take a closer look at these shifts and where the industry is heading.

A Look at Pandemic Pain Points

The past few years changed how the health care industry operates and will have a long-term impact on design, strategies and processes in place. Facilities had to become adaptable and resilient to keep pace with the influx of patients, new regulations and infection control protocols. A majority of health care professionals cited at least one way that COVID-19 impacted their organization's infrastructure needs and plans. In response, 73% of facilities added extra layers of security, 59% added touchless technology at openings and 62% electrified openings with access control.

Increased Demand for Infection Control

Door hardware played an important role in new infection control protocols by providing touchless access to create healthy environments. Solutions range from hands-free door pulls, often seen in public restroom entrances in commercial buildings and restaurants, to more technology-driven electronic solutions to monitor and control access.

While infection control has always been a top health care priority, the pandemic accelerated the adoption of new solutions. Almost 90% of facilities are using antimicrobial products to reduce the spread of bacteria. Facilities are also using touchless or hands-free products throughout the building, and 61% report using hands-free or touchless access products more than before.
This trend extends beyond hospitals—across the security industry, there was increased interest in touchless technology and antimicrobial coatings. High-traffic, public-use access points like entrances, restrooms and conference rooms are typically best suited for these solutions.

The number of facilities using antimicrobial products today is up a significant 170% from the survey conducted in 2016. Electronic access control is also on the rise, and there’s a great demand for the data that comes along with it. More hospitals are capturing data and using it for diagnostic information and gathering details about specific doors, like latch position. A similar trend was taking place in multifamily buildings and campuses, as facility managers leveraged access control data to determine building capacities and support contact tracing.

Over the last five years, the interest in building automation has also peaked. Hospitals are using this to electronically control systems like HVAC, electrical, plumbing and security. When used correctly, building automation improves efficiency, lowers maintenance and operating costs, and increases productivity. This technology also aims to provide a better experience for building occupants—employees and patients—by creating better indoor air quality and greater comfort.

Taking Care of Care Professionals

Health care professionals took on the brunt of the pandemic, which resulted in widespread workload strains, staffing shortages and stress. According to a recent Deloitte report, 55% of frontline health care workers in the U.S. report burnout. Couple these challenges with an aging population, and the industry is facing massive disruption. By 2026, there is expected to be a staffing shortage of 3.2 million healthcare workers, according to a recent Forrester study commissioned by Sterling.

Given this, staff satisfaction is top of mind for health care leaders. When asked how their organization measures effectiveness of hands-free and touchless products, the top response was improvement of staff satisfaction (66%). Staff satisfaction was in the top three answers when asked a similar question about measuring the effectiveness of antimicrobials. This was also an important factor for how respondents measure the effectiveness of quiet door hardware.

Leaders are implementing better processes and technology to attract and retain talent. As the health care industry seeks to bridge the talent gap, staffing and employee experience will continue to be a top priority in the industry.

Accommodating Patients of All Abilities and Needs

Alongside staff satisfaction, there is an increased emphasis on accommodating patients of all abilities and needs. In the study, the pandemic and an increased focus on mental health were cited as key drivers for these shifts. To improve accessibility, the majority of hospitals updated doors to meet ADA compliance requirements over the last year. The most common changes in patient rooms, common areas and restrooms included changing doorknobs to levers and adding automatic door operators.

The conversation around mental health has shifted, and more people and organizations are prioritizing proper care and treatment. This shift is especially helpful for those seeking in-patient treatment at hospitals. More than half of health care professionals are experiencing an increase in patients requiring rooms with ligature resistant hardware, which is specifically designed to reduce the risk of strangulation and keep patients safe. Further, health care professionals are becoming more familiar with ligature resistant hardware compared to prior years. In addition to behavioral health areas, psych wards and emergency rooms continue to be areas with the greatest need for ligature resistant hardware.

Noise reduction is an important part of the healing environment. Patients often rank noise as a top complaint in Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) surveys, which measure patient experiences. These surveys impact the reimbursements that hospitals receive, which can be negatively impacted by loud machines, slamming doors, and other noise pollution that impacts the patient experience. Quiet hardware is designed with this in mind, to allow for quiet non-disruptive use.

Familiarity with the impact of noise on patient satisfaction through the HCAHPS surveys increased slightly between 2016 and 2021. While not the top concern in hospitals currently, more than half are likely to adopt quiet hardware in the next five years.

Both ligature-resistant hardware and quiet hardware aim to create an effective healing environment. While these solutions may have started off to fulfill a niche need, they have become more widespread and important in this space. As priorities shift, this is an interesting trend to watch in the health care space.

Looking Ahead and Planning for the Future

To meet the demands of the evolving landscape and prepare for the future, health care industry leaders are implementing new security initiatives. Looking ahead, we anticipate more hospitals will implement security technology and pursue projects which may have been put off over the last few years. In 2022, 55% of hospitals plan to standardize the purchase of door hardware and access control products. Additionally, 40% plan to expand their security plans in the next year, including projects related to key control, credentialing and ligature resistance.

Demands from patients and staff have continued to shape health care environments. Security continues to play a strong role in helping leaders better secure and protect their facilities and staff, create healthy environments and improve experiences for all occupants.

This article originally appeared in the July / August 2022 issue of Campus Security Today.


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