Safety first: hospitals get smart


As the healthcare sector becomes increasingly dependent on information technology, the contactless smart card is safeguarding patients and staff, and protecting confidential information.

Hospitals in Scandinavia were early adopters of this technology, recognizing the benefits of using contactless smart cards to control access to their buildings and to the IT systems housing confidential patient data. Germany has issued healthcare smart cards to its entire 80-million-strong population, and in the UK many hospitals are following suit.

“In the past, it was relatively easy for an intruder to walk unchallenged all around a hospital. There were even rare cases of babies being removed from pediatric wards. Now contactless smart cards offer staff differing levels of physical access according to their position, as well as logical access to the IT systems that house confidential patient data,” says Holly Sacks, Senior Vice President Market and Corporate Strategy, HID Global. “Such logical access saves doctors time, enabling them to focus on patient care. It also means patient details can be stored and managed in compliance with the Data Protection Act.”

contactless smart cardSmart cards come in contact or contactless form, and can offer three different levels of security: single, dual, or three factor authentication. With single factor authentication, a card provides access to a system or opens a door. Dual factor authentication (the most common level in UK hospitals) requires a PIN code, and three factor authentication uses an additional security measure such as a biometric scan.

“One surprising area where this technology is making an impact is infection control. Consider a doctor on their morning round of many different wards, accessing various computer systems as they go. Through the use of a contactless smart card, the spread of infection is completely avoided,” says Holly.

Despite the advantages of this technology, some hospitals still use the most basic form of secure access control: magnetic stripe – or magstripe – cards. While cheap to produce, these can be expensive in terms of maintenance. Debris collects inside the card reader, and they are susceptible to magnetic interference and wear and tear. They are also very restricted compared with smart cards in terms of their data storage capacity. But perhaps the biggest disadvantage of is that magnetic stripe is a legacy technology that does not have the advanced data security features found in today’s contactless smart card technology.

Deterred by the cost of upgrading to contactless smart cards, some hospitals may prioritize the funding of extra patient beds, for example. But the benefits are clear: besides saving time and money, they are portable and secure. Besides, surely infection control and effective security on a maternity ward are priceless.