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Hospitals and healthcare facilities can be particularly vulnerable to security threats. Staff often work irregular hours, security personnel need to oversee multiple entry points and healthcare professionals must safeguard patients. This means that finding ways to control access to key locations is paramount to workplace safety. 

With data suggesting that as many as 72% of healthcare workers are concerned about violence in the workplace and hospitals are said to lose between 10%-20% of key assets to loss or theft, access control in hospitals should be viewed as a top priority. 

Healthcare administrators, security teams and IT staff have many options when it comes to developing dedicated healthcare access control systems, though effective solutions must be adapted to the unique needs of each facility. To aid personnel in approaching this important process, here is a comprehensive guide to effective access control in healthcare facilities.

What is access control in hospitals?

Access control refers to a collection of technologies and techniques used to limit access to certain areas and resources only to authorized personnel. Access control systems are vital components of healthcare security — hospital staff must be able to safely manage entries and exits for large numbers of people across multiple entry points, while also ensuring the protection of property and assets.

Compliant access control solutions

  • Cloud-native system for remote management

  • Revoke or assign permissions in an instant

  • Convenient access with touchless mobile credentials 

  • Integrates easily with existing security systems

Types of access control for hospitals

Numerous types of access control for hospital environments can be effectively deployed to reduce security risks like intrusions and theft. From environmental access control solutions like gates and fences to electronic access systems, hospital access control policies, and visitor management tools, various technologies can be used to improve security. 

Perimeter access solutions 

Perimeter access control includes fences, physical barriers and walkways intended to divert the flow of traffic to easily monitored areas. This type of access control for hospitals provides basic protection, though it should be supplemented by additional solutions to monitor access events and enable staff to create audit trails.

Electronic access control systems 

Electronic healthcare access control systems offer additional layers of security by enabling security staff to restrict access to key locations and resources using credentials. 

Entry points are secured using electronic locks connected to access readers and a central control panel. Authorized staff and guests are issued personalized credentials — via an employee badge entry system or visitor management system — that must be presented to a reader for access to be granted, reducing the risk of unauthorized access.

Utilizing electronic access control in hospitals enables admins to monitor access events and audit trails in real-time and program automated alerts to warn personnel of suspicious activities. Different credential types can be chosen for specific areas depending on the level of risk, with high-security areas secured behind multi-layered credentials and permissions.

Electronic healthcare access control systems can also be monitored remotely, with security teams able to deactivate credentials that have been lost, stolen or misused. Additionally, these solutions can be integrated with wider security devices such as alarms, environmental sensors and IP security camera systems to gain additional data and create automated threat responses. 

Hospital access control policies 

Access control policies help improve the efficacy of hospital access control technologies by governing their operation under a set of rules. For example, a policy of zero trust would dictate that all hospital personnel must authenticate themselves before access to any areas or resources is granted, creating detailed audit trails to aid future investigations.

A hospital access control policy may also include the use of access control models. Admins can apply unique rules to active credentials to limit their use. For example, a rule may be applied to grant access to maternity wards only to authorized staff. 

Role-based permissions can help administrators comply with various rules and regulations by automatically restricting access to high-risk locations based on the credential holder’s role. Fewer people will be granted access to private patient quarters, medicine stores and file storage facilities, and detailed access logs will be recorded automatically. 

Visitor management technologies 

Monitoring visitor access in healthcare facilities is a primary security concern. Security staff and healthcare admins must be able to track large numbers of visitors as they travel through each facility, ensuring they have access to the right areas, are restricted from entering high-risk locations and will be accounted for in the event of an emergency.

Visitor management software can be used to issue guests temporary credentials that grant access to specific locations for a set amount of time. Guests can pre-register when booking an appointment, with credentials either issued in the form of a key card on arrival or sent directly to their smartphones if mobile hospital access control systems are in operation.

Why healthcare access control systems are crucial

While all modern organizations benefit from the use of access control and security systems, there are several unique considerations associated with healthcare facilities that make their use particularly important. Below are some reasons why access control in hospitals is vital: 

Valuable or regulated assets 

Alongside office equipment and staff belongings, healthcare administrators must ensure that numerous valuable and potentially dangerous assets remain safe from external threats. Staff must offer patients a way to store their personal belongings in a safe environment, as well as deploy user-friendly access control to protect vulnerable patients in private accommodation.

Additionally, healthcare access control systems prevent unauthorized access to prescription drugs, sensitive medical equipment and hospital computer systems containing identifiable personal data. Securing such assets behind monitored hospital access control systems limits the risk of intrusions and ensures entry logs are recorded to best identify potential incidents.


Unlike traditional businesses, hospitals are open 24/7 and must accommodate public access to different areas of the facility. Patients and visitors must be able to easily access reception areas and waiting rooms, but various wards, surgeries, storage areas and staff rooms must be appropriately secured behind varying levels of security clearance.

This means that access control in hospitals requires the use of roles, rules and layered security permissions to ensure all residents have access to the right areas at the right times. Admins must be able to grant unique permissions to different credential types while ensuring security teams can identify credential misuse and revoke compromised permissions when necessary. 

Protected Health Information (PHI)

PHI includes medical records, financial information, lab reports and any other files that could be used to identify specific patients. This data may be stored in numerous physical or digital locations, requiring access control in hospitals to be versatile enough to grant complicated permissions based on the unique roles and responsibilities of different users.

Hospitals and healthcare facilities must comply with HIPAA regulations regarding the storage and sharing of PHI. Violations of these rules can result in significant fines and jail time and may impact the safety of vulnerable patients. It’s imperative that healthcare access control systems are deployed to ensure only authorized personnel can access sensitive PHI.

Proof of regulatory compliance

Healthcare professionals must comply with numerous regulations alongside HIPAA to ensure patients and employees are protected from various threats. These include regulations regarding the distribution of medication, the prevention of fraudulent activity, the protection of patients and staff from abusive behaviors, and the prevention of internal and external theft.

Healthcare administrators must provide evidence of compliance with these regulations, and hospital access control systems support leaders in this pursuit. Access systems can be used to prove sensitive data is protected, patients are provided ample security and access events are logged to provide evidence of the correct use of files, tools and regulated items. 

Best practices for effective access control in hospitals

For effective access control in healthcare environments, leaders must design systems with the unique needs of their facility in mind. Consider the following tips and best practices:

  • Cloud-based management — A sought-after access control technology is cloud-based access control. These systems offer hospital security teams the ability to view and adjust permissions remotely and receive real-time alerts warning of suspicious activities. Additionally, cybersecurity protections such as end-to-end encryption must be in place to prevent data from being intercepted.

  • Role-based permissions — An effective hospital access control policy will include role-based access control permissions to assign access rights based on each user’s needs. For example, only credentials issued to IT professionals and management teams can be used to access server rooms to minimize the threat of data breaches.

  • Multiple credential types — Hospital access control systems may use different types of credentials to secure various locations. Low-risk areas may be locked behind simple keypad readers, while high-risk areas like data rooms and medication stores can be secured behind advanced credentials like biometric facial recognition or retina scans.

  • Time-based visitor access — Visitor access is an important part of access control for hospitals. Creating and issuing temporary credentials can be achieved using mobile credentials and visitor management software. Visitors can book appointments using an online form and have time-based credentials sent straight to their smartphones.

  • Smart security integrations — Leaders should consider the benefits of integrating healthcare access control systems with existing security devices. Access control readers can be connected to on-site alarms, environmental sensors and CCTV cameras, enabling teams to automate the activation of various tools with access events.

Key takeaways

Access control in healthcare facilities helps to ensure the safety and security of all patients, employees and visitors. However, developing appropriate access systems for healthcare sites requires an in-depth understanding of industry-specific regulations and security risks.

Healthcare access control systems must be designed with versatility in mind. Security teams will need to assign role-based permissions to limit access based on the needs of individual users. 

Hospital access control policies should follow a zero-trust principle, with access to high-risk areas limited only to authorized personnel. Continuous authorization must be requested from staff. Provided these considerations are met and integrations with existing security solutions are implemented, healthcare access control systems can provide optimal protection to patients, visitors, property and assets. 

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