Dec 05 2023

Surveillance and Sensors: A Toolkit for Holistic Physical Security in Healthcare

Integrate physical security technology as part of an overall cybersecurity effort to ensure the safety of individuals at health systems.

Protecting clinicians, patients and staff requires a 360-degree approach as part of a holistic physical security strategy.

Not only must health systems safeguard physical items such as door locks, proximity cards and medical equipment, they also require protection from threats such as ransomware and malware.

“Physical security and cybersecurity are intricately linked,” explains Jake Stauch, director of product at Verkada, an enterprise security provider. “One really can’t exist without the other.”

A holistic physical security team could include roles such as compliance officer, CIO and head of physical security, says Aaron Miri, chief digital and information officer and senior vice president at Baptist Health in Jacksonville, Fla., and one of HealthTech’s 2023 IT influencers.

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Physical security technology includes surveillance cameras, motion sensors, access controls and role-based permissions. These technologies can protect health systems from both internal and external threats to computers and records, server rooms and medical equipment, Stauch says.

Here are some technologies to consider when bolstering a hospital’s physical security program:

Video Security Cameras

Surveillance cameras provide visibility into areas such as waiting rooms, administrative offices and pharmacies. Combine video security cameras with analytics and alerts to increase security, Stauch advises.

“Hospital closed circuit TV and surveillance cameras serve as the eyes of the security system, keeping watch on everything from hallways to parking lots,” explains Erik Avakian, a technical counselor at Info-Tech Research Group.

Baptist Health employs telesitting, which relies on surveillance cameras to spot patient falls or acute medical episodes, Miri says.


Panic buttons  enable security teams to respond to incidents, and video feeds connected to a button’s location can alert onsite security and the police, Stauch says.

Alert systems can notify staff of patient movement or motion after hours or of a door left ajar, he says.

Physical Security TOC



Access Control

Matt Kjin, segment development manager for healthcare at Axis Communications, suggests creating a hierarchy of access based on the needs of patients and employees. Credentials might consist of a PIN; a biometric method such as a fingerprint scan; or a smart device such as phones, an access method that is gaining popularity, he says.

“With one touch of a button, admins can trigger a lockdown procedure to protect patients and staff,” Stauch says. “Access to restricted areas can also easily be added and removed to scale efficiently.”

Meanwhile, software allows health systems to control access to data from surveillance cameras, which enables hospital systems to manage clearances and minimize risks from unauthorized access, he says.

Baptist Health uses tap-and-go proximity cards with two-factor authentication to secure access. The organization has deployed an identity management system from Imprivata and works closely with its physical plant to give employees access to the right location.


Radio-frequency ID tags not only help hospitals keep track of equipment but also protect a health system’s bottom line.

“Hospital equipment is expensive, and such investments should be protected from theft or misuse,” Avakian says. “By tagging items, hospitals can quickly know where everything is, which helps reduce losses and can also improve response time during emergencies.”

A key part of Baptist Health’s physical security strategy involves real-time location and RFID technologies to track equipment throughout the hospital. The RFID tags use beacons to ping access points and prevent misplacement of equipment, Miri explains.

READ MORE: Why do physical security and cybersecurity work so well together?

Motion Sensors

Motion sensors help health systems track movement in sensitive areas around a hospital or in areas that have less foot traffic.

“They can be placed anywhere but are great for supply rooms or sensitive places where you wouldn’t expect much activity, especially at certain times,” Avakian says.

Thermal Scanning

Health systems use thermal imaging scanners to monitor temperature in a facility. These scanners can also control access, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, they allowed clinicians to check the temperature of patients and visitors. Such sensors can also be used to protect medication that is sensitive to high temperatures as well as rooms that store important equipment, Avakian says.

$3.4 billion

The estimated amount that will be spent globally on video surveillance cameras in healthcare in 2028, up from $1.9 billion in 2023

Source: IDC, “Worldwide Physical Security Technology Forecast, 2023–2028: Physical Security Technology Market Growing in Response to Increasing Desire to Leverage Business Telemetry,” August 2023

Best Practices for Implementing Physical Security Technology in Healthcare

When purchasing physical security equipment, ensure that software and hardware are compatible and integrated as part of a central security management system, Avakian suggests.

Healthcare institutions should organize physical security systems in “concentric circles,” Kjin advises. That allows items such as surveillance cameras, motion sensors, electronic door locks and glass-break sensors to communicate with each other using physical relays, logic strings or artificial intelligence, he explains.

As hospitals use cloud computing to link their IT systems as part of a holistic security strategy, controlled access to server rooms will also be critical, Avakian says.

RELATED: Check out this review on the Verkada CD52 Dome camera.

“By tightly managing who can access the physical parts of the network, hospitals can reduce the risk of cyberattacks or data breaches that often start with physical access,” he says.

Boosting physical security includes maintaining a working relationship with local law enforcement and emergency services. That will make emergency procedures smoother should an incident occur. Exercises and drills conducted with law enforcement and emergency services can test incident response and emergency preparedness, Avakian suggests.

“Any lessons learned will help improve the incident response process, bolster the relationships with incident responders, and ensure that incidents are responded to effectively and everyone’s working together,” he says.

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