Q&A: Schneider Electric Discusses Healthcare Building Safety and IoT

As building technology evolves, security threats to buildings – including hospitals – are changing, as are the knowledge and skills needed from facility managers and employees to protect their buildings.

Facility managers must understand how the latest building security technology systems work together and stay proactive in utilizing the tools at hand to effectively address safety threats in order to maintain video surveillance systems, visitor entry control systems and other physical security infrastructure.

An additional benefit of technology, like the Internet of Things (IoT), is that safety and profitability no longer need to be mutually exclusive.

Traditionally, since the primary objective for a business is to drive profitability, protecting the safety of the people, assets and environment have often been viewed as somewhat necessary evils. Today’s IoT-enabled systems help to better identify, plan and manage operating and business risks, reducing the likelihood of unexpected production outages and downtime, and empowering facilities and plants to control the profitability of their safety applications.

Tyler Haak, business development manager at Schneider Electric, spoke with HC+O News to discuss IoT and how it will assist facility managers in the healthcare industry.

Q: How are technologies such as IoT evolving and making the facility manager’s job easier?

Haak: Sensing is being embedded into more and more devices, creating new points of access and data collection in our building systems. Concurrently, historically disparate systems are integrating in new ways with throughputs in data transmission that are much higher than previous generations of buildings. Facility managers in hospitals, outpatient clinics, assisted living centers, doctors’ offices and other healthcare facilities are able to use the insights generated from all this data to perform more specific, more proactive, and more effective tasks. With facility managers now able to leverage the IoT to focus their efforts in a healthcare setting, we are afforded better opportunities to accommodate changing patient needs and combat rising healthcare costs.

Q: What specific technologies should hospital facilities managers have on their radars?

Haak: There is a wide range of IoT-enabled technologies for healthcare facilities available today, and these are constantly evolving. One area that is having a significant impact on patient comfort is mobile patient room control applications. For example, IoT connectivity enables patients to use apps on their smart phones to create their own optimal healing environment through individual control over room temperature, lighting, windows and other more hospital-experience specific tasks like nurse calls and bed adjustments rather than relying on nurses to perform basic tasks. While enabling better comfort for patients, this also gives nurses more time to spend on clinical tasks.

Q: What are some of the key security threats to hospitals and how do these technologies help mitigate those risks? 

 Haak: Healthcare facilities experience both physical and cybersecurity threats, including both data theft and physical theft of hospital equipment. IoT-enabled devices can protect against equipment theft through incorporating real-time location system (RTLS) technology that provides alerts when assets or patients leave a designated area. To protect against data theft and other cyberattacks, healthcare facilities must ensure that all IoT enabled equipment uses the latest security best practices including end-to-end encryption.

Q: How can they be more pro-active in addressing safety threats to their facility?

 Haak: Healthcare facility IT teams should implement IoT-based cybersecurity solutions to prevent attacks on technology that holds sensitive patient data. As part of this, it is vital to incorporate the use of authentication and encryption to protect communications between mobile devices, controllers and workstations. In addition, system manufacturers need to provide training to the application developers to ensure that clients are complying with regulations such as HIPAA. Facility managers must incorporate threat modeling, secure code practices, extensive testing and more to ensure that their teams are following security regulations.

In addition, equipment manufacturers must provide security personnel with full documentation and instructions to ensure that they are deploying and maintaining their equipment efficiently, securely and effectively. Many facility managers are also dedicating specific staff to cybersecurity teams to help provide installation services, maintenance and ongoing support with incidents or vulnerabilities in the face of a constantly evolving threat.

Q: While budgetary restrictions have long been an issue in regard to technology and security, how are the latest ones becoming less of a financial concern? 

 Haak: Due to the efficiencies enabled by the latest IoT-enabled technologies, building management system (BMS) systems in many of today’s facilities are now able to significantly reduce energy costs, reduce maintenance costs and regulatory risk through predictive monitoring of equipment, streamline schedules and tasks, and create a host of other benefits from a wide range of efficiency gains. By using both cloud and on-premise technologies, BMS solutions allow facility managers to connect historically disparate systems such as lighting, HVAC, security and access control, as well as connected devices such as valves, actuators, sensors and meters into one integrated platform.

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