Intelligent Patient Visitor Management For Hospitals: A Comprehensive Guide
Our guide to how visitor management solutions allow hospitals to operate more efficiently, secure their valuable assets, and better protect patients, staff and visitors.
A hospital is somewhere people go in their most vulnerable moments, whether they be ill, injured, or facing the illness or injury of a loved one. To ensure patients and other visitors have a positive experience, hospitals should be secure, well-organized, and comfortable places—for both staff and patients.
The most important way that hospitals can address their security, safety, and organizational needs is by regulating the flow and access of patients, visitors, contractors, and vendors, using a robust visitor management solution.
Unfortunately, most systems currently on the market are not built with the needs of hospitals in mind. Hospitals face the unique challenges of managing access requirements for a wide range of identities whose needs may change rapidly, preventing the spread of infectious diseases, and ensuring a smooth and fast check-in process for visitors.
In this article, we will outline and explore the key challenges faced by hospitals today and provide recommendations for how to overcome these challenges to ensure visitor, worker, and patient safety.
Security Challenges In The Healthcare Industry
Hospitals face a number of potential threats to people and property, including physical assaults on staff, theft of medical supplies and drugs, and access to vulnerable patients and sensitive areas. These threats place strain on hospital security and administrators, who must find a balance between blocking potential dangers and not disrupting the day-to-day flow of people in and out, or diminishing the open and inviting environments hospitals like to foster to facilitate a comfortable healing environment.
Broadly speaking, there are four key challenges hospitals are facing today. These include ensuring staff and visitor safety, preventing the spread of infectious diseases, improving efficiency and scalability, and adhering to compliance regulations.
Patient, Staff, And Visitor Safety
Hospitals are busy bustling places, with many people—clinical, administrative, and operational staff, as well as patients, visitors, contractors, etc.—traversing the halls daily. The prioritization of patient safety and security is critical in such a busy environment, where it can be difficult to keep track of who is coming and going. In fact, a survey from Global Healthcare Exchange (GHX) showed that 63% of Americans are concerned about unauthorized individuals walking the halls of hospitals. If a patient’s security were to be breached by an unauthorized intruder, they may feel unsafe or suffer physical harm and the hospital’s reputation could be seriously damaged, if not subject to legal action.
The safety of staff is another big concern—one that has grown over the last few years. Data from the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety indicates a rise in the assault rate in US hospitals from 2019 to 2020, with an increase of over 23%. The number of assaults reported has continued to rise since then, which led to the American Hospital Association submitting a request in March 2022 to the Department of Justice for legislation to be drafted providing healthcare workers with better protection from assault and intimidation.
There are also specific safeguarding issues hospitals must consider beyond simply protecting staff and patients. For example, highly vulnerable patients must be protected from unauthorized visitors who should not have access to them, even if they are related. At the same time, hospitals must ensure that the right people are able to reach and offer comfort to patients who are waiting for them; for instance, a sick child losing visiting time with their family due to delays at the front desk.
Preventing The Spread Of Infectious Diseases
A shift towards tighter access control for the sake of protecting hospital staff has been happening for a while, but the COVID-19 pandemic catalyzed a more sudden and drastic shift: the need for comprehensive disease control.
Limiting the spread of infections in hospitals has always been a concern, but never to the degree it reached during the pandemic when hospital workers and patients found themselves in an especially vulnerable position.
Efficiency And Scalability
Efficiency at a hospital is critical, especially when it comes to admitting patients and visitors. Poor policies and inefficient procedures that complicate how visitors enter and move around the facility can lead to added stress for patients and slowdowns in treatment.
A streamlined check-in and authorization process experience for visitors and patients, enabled by technologies that also make them feel safer, can help foster an environment of trust that benefits everyone.
Hospitals are often comprised of multiple campuses and may include emergency departments, laboratories, and restricted areas that require stricter access limitations. Most visitor management systems are not equipped to manage these complex environments and lack the scalability needed to serve hundreds of lobbies either within the same complex or spread out over multiple sites.
Unless hospitals can efficiently manage the entire physical lifecycle of a growing number of visitors without wait times increasing and security suffering, they may struggle to reach their potential for growth.
The final challenge faced by hospitals is regulatory compliance. The US healthcare industry is monitored rigorously against stringent regulatory requirements. Organizations in this industry must comply with a variety of standards, including the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), Centers for Disease Control (CDC) regulations, Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO), and the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety (IAHSS).
Healthcare organizations are also required to comply with Health Level Seven (HL7), which is a set of international standards for the transfer of clinical administrative data between software applications used by a variety of healthcare providers.
Keeping up with these rigid standards places a considerable administrative and audit burden on hospitals, especially as these regulations often undergo routine changes that the healthcare industry must meet. In addition to this, they may be subject to non-routine changes, such as those put in place throughout the COVID-19 pandemic designed to limit the spread of the virus, which hospitals were required to comply with.
What Is Visitor Management?
Visitor management refers to the processes and tools used to administer and track physical access to buildings or facilities by individuals who are not employed by the organization. For hospitals, it specifically refers to the flow and access of patient, visitor, contractor, and vendor populations that need to be managed and monitored.
Having a dependable visitor management system in place that can effectively manage and track hospital visitors provides many benefits that go a long way in alleviating the risks associated with these challenges.
Benefits Of Patient Visitor Management For Hospitals
Improved Security Processes
Automating the manual processes associated with managing visitors—such as verifying, screening, and providing badges to users, and standardizing your security policies across all healthcare facilities—allows you to more effectively uphold security standards, even if there is a policy change or if a new lobby or new location is added.
Automatically provisioning access to hospital visitors based on their business at the hospital or their relationship with a specific patient both improves front desk efficiency by streamlining the visitor pre-registration process and enhances overall security by automating the process of verifying, screening, and badging visitors.
Strong security and a user-friendly experience are very valuable, and hospitals should prioritize these when it comes to implementing a visitor management solution.
Compliance With Local Or National Mandates
Complying with local or national mandates—whether they relate to strict data privacy and protection requirements or patient, visitor, and staff health and safety—requires solutions with configurable policies and workflows that enable consistent policy enforcement.
By capturing and surfacing key information via standard or ad hoc reports, healthcare organizations can provide auditors and authorities with required documentation quickly and efficiently.
Patient Visitor Ease Of Use
Today’s consumers have high technology expectations. Online booking and self-checkouts work to reduce friction when taking out cash at the ATM and booking a stay somewhere—the same convenience is expected in hospitals.
An effortless check-in experience for your patients, visitors, and contractors should be high on the list of priorities when searching for a visitor management solution as it saves time and money, improves user experience, and frees up front desk staff to rededicate their time to more critical tasks.
Self-service kiosks make the experience for visitors significantly smoother, which enhances customer satisfaction and overall reduces healthcare delivery costs for the hospital.
A solution that provides sufficient room for growth and is adaptable to change is absolutely essential for any hospital, as many hospitals require any solution they use to stretch across several different sites and to serve hundreds of lobbies within one complex.
Visitor management systems within this kind of fast-paced, changeable environment need to have a minimum learning curve as hospitals often have high turnover rates (which only increased over the course of the pandemic with the average staff turnover rate in the US in 2020 standing at 19.5%). They should be straightforward and easy for security teams and admins to manage and should be quick and responsive to ensure that errors—when they occur—are caught quickly and remedied.
How To Choose A Patient Visitor Management Tool
There are a few key features that you should look out for when choosing a patient visitor management tool to implement at your hospital. These include visitor self-service, integrations, scalability, customizable security policies, and compliance support. Let’s take a look at each of them in a little more detail.
A patient visitor management tool can help increase front desk efficiency and visitor experience by offering self-service tools, including check-in/check-out kiosks and web portals for inpatients, outpatients, and immediate relatives. These make it quick and easy for visitors to register themselves when they arrive at the hospital, and make it easy for them to review, acknowledge, and agree to terms set out by the hospital.
You should look for a self-service feature that enables you to present screening questions to visitors and upon check-in and compare visitor details against watch lists. This will allow patients greater control over who can visit them and help you to prevent unauthorized and unwanted people from entering the facility and creating safety concerns.
Visitors should also be able to print visitors’ badges upon check-in at the kiosk station, with self-registration via an ID scanner and web camera removing the security risk associated with sign-in booklets, as well as freeing up administrative employees’ resources by removing the tedious and time-consuming task of visitor check-ins from their plates.
Your chosen patient visitor management solution should enable you to automate policies related to access entitlement and badging. By taking an automated approach to permitting regular visits from those closest to the patients, you can minimize friction and, more importantly, prevent the wrong visitors from entering the facility and gaining proximity to patients who may be in a particularly vulnerable state.
These policies can help regulate the flow of visitors throughout the hospital and screen for potential illnesses. The risk of illness fluctuates year-round, can differ depending on location, and can be subject to unexpected serious outbreaks (of COVID-19, for example), so policies should be able to adapt to that variance.
Integrations And Scalability
Any strong patient visitor management system should integrate seamlessly with other security, identity, and healthcare systems, including:
- HL7 compliant interfaces
- Electronic health or medical record (EHR or EMR) systems
- Information technology (IT) systems (i.e., Microsoft Active Directory and single sign-on (SSO))
By offering out-of-the box integrations, the visitor management tool will enable you to use your existing tools rather than having to migrate to new ones. This can improve the effectiveness of your existing tools and make the solution much easier to deploy, integrate, and manage long-term.
To help you manage liability and ensure compliance with any data protection standards relevant to your organization, such as HIPAA, your visitor management solution should create an auditable log of all actions and data within the system. It should communicate with other systems you’re using—including PACS and EHR/EMR—to generate a record of entries, exits, and other transactions quickly and easily that can be examined if needed, thereby strengthening safety standards and boosting accountability.
As well as helping you achieve compliance, these logs can be used to improve security: data collected by the visitor management system like names, dates, times, etc. may reveal patterns which, once identified, can be used to better refine policies, and implement preventative—not reactive—security. In other words, these insights can help you to address threats before they emerge.
Finding the right visitor management system is important for hospitals due to the serious risks associated with their unique environments, which include threats to people and property, assaults, theft of medical supplies, drugs, or patients’ data, and the spreading of infectious diseases. These challenges place considerable strain on hospitals’ security professionals and admins.
To alleviate this strain, we recommend that hospitals implement a sophisticated solution specifically designed to tackle their unique challenges and to improve both efficiency and the overall experience. Patient visitor management solutions offer users useful capabilities that are designed to satisfy the needs of hospitals by supporting patient well-being and providing a safe, compliant, and efficient environment for patients, workers, and visitors.