Published March 2021
By Brad Sweet, commercial marketing leader at Allegion
The pandemic took hospitals by storm in 2020. Shortages of essential resources and patient overflow were recurring topics on the nightly news while communities worried about the health and safety of front-line health care workers. Many of 2020’s challenges have carried over to 2021, and I anticipate the lessons learned will impact the health care industry far beyond the pandemic.
According to FacilitiesNet, design changes coming out of the pandemic will include spaces that enforce social distancing, heightened cleanliness and contactless environments. As health care facilities implement infection prevention strategies to better protect their staff, patients and visitors, they also need to address the changing expectations of individuals. People are more conscious about their environments today, watching what they touch and keeping a six-foot distance from others. Touchless access reduces the number of surfaces pedestrians touch in a facility, which decreases opportunities for exposure to infections and improves peace of mind.
Patients will be on the lookout for new protocols that establish a safe, sanitary health care experience. They’re going to expect the visit to be as contactless as possible. New technologies—or new uses for existing technologies—emerged in 2020 that helped health care facilities adapt during the pandemic.
With the right hardware and technology, a touchless health care visit is possible. Patients enter the hospital or doctor’s office through automatic doors, using motion sensors or wave actuators. Overcrowded waiting rooms are things of the past thanks to technology that lets facilities get creative with their check-in processes. Some have protocols to move patients directly to a designated area upon arrival while others have eliminated the waiting room completely, asking patients to remain in their cars until the doctor is ready.
Before there were a lot of hands-on interactions in the office like the exchange of insurance cards or forms and paperwork. Today, many are encouraging patients to handle as much of this online before they arrive for a contactless check-in.
Patients have peace of mind and the health care personnel is better protected. But what happens after the patients arrive? Doctors, nurses and staff want healthier workplaces too. The touchless experience shouldn’t stop at the waiting room—and it doesn’t have to with the right door hardware. Consider a comprehensive approach that explores touchless access beyond the entrance doors.
Mitigating risks associated with hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) was essential long before the coronavirus and will continue to be important post-pandemic. There were 2 million HAIs each year and 90,000 related deaths prior to the pandemic, according to STATnews.com. Investing in more touchless access control today will benefit health care facilities for years to come.
A 2014 study by Charles Gerba of the University of Arizona found the contamination of a single doorknob or tabletop could result in the spread of viruses throughout office buildings, hotels and health care facilities. Researchers put a tracer virus on a couple surfaces at the start of the day then monitored where it spread after two to four hours. In one example, the virus ended up on over half the employees’ hands as well as half the surfaces people touched.
This study emphasizes the importance of clean hands, especially in health care facilities with immunocompromised patients. While handwashing is a must, it’s also good to examine the high-touch surfaces throughout the building. People touch door hardware, like exit devices and levers, several times a day, particularly in high-traffic places. It’s important to keep these areas clean and disinfected to help prevent the transmission of contaminants. There’s been a lot of interest in surface technologies like copper to help prevent the spread of germs. In fact, the EPA just registered copper surfaces for residual use against the coronavirus. To go a step further, health care facilities can reduce the number of surfaces that people need to touch.
A common way to accomplish touchless door operation is by pairing low energy automatic operators with no-touch actuators or readers. For doors with electronic access control, contactless credentials are ideal. Mobile access solutions have even replaced staff badges and visitor access cards at some locations.
Using contactless credentials for access, hospitals gain insights into where people are within the facility. Tracking patient flow reveals opportunities for more advanced security and safety protocols, like capacity management and contact tracing. It can even lead to more informed cleaning, sending crews to locations that saw high traffic. By combining the two, touchless openings and access control, health care facilities can take greater control over HAIs and the spread of COVID-19.
Read more about the advanced ways touchless and access control complement each other in this article from Campus Safety magazine, like the use of intercoms or video surveillance to detect people who aren’t wearing masks.
Touchless openings are common at hospital entrances for convenience and accessibility, and even some corridors have automatic doors. But why stop there? Using an affordable automatic door operator, touchless access control can be advantageous beyond the main doors.
Patient rooms – Eliminating the need for doctors, nurses and visitors to touch the hospital room door or door hardware is a win-win for everyone, especially in the ICU or other wings of the hospital with high-risk patients. Automatic sliding glass doors are space-saving options for patient rooms.
Isolation rooms – These spaces are being added to many health care facilities in light of the pandemic. The use of touchless automatic sliding doors helps isolate potential airborne contaminants.
Public bathrooms – Toilets, faucets, soap dispensers, paper towel dispensers, hand driers. All of these tend to be hands-free, but what about the door? Offer a completely touchless experience, in a place where nobody ever wants to touch anything. Upgrading mechanical bathroom doors with a wave actuator and affordable automatic door operator will also improve accessibility.
Operating rooms – Operations require sterile environments, so it’s easy to see why contactless access would be beneficial in this area of the hospital.
Staff-only areas – Germs on a door in the staff lounge room can remain on a doctor’s hands as they travel back into public areas and patient rooms. Think about the high-traffic staff areas like locker rooms, lounges and dining areas that would benefit from touchless access control.
Storage and equipment rooms – While secure areas or storage closets might not see as much traffic as other areas, equipment needs protected. And if it requires access control, it might be another area to consider making contactless. Think of the storage areas where personal protective equipment is stored. Could that door benefit from contactless readers and credentials, as well as an automated door opener?
Smaller facilities – Touchless access control isn’t just for large hospitals. Medical office buildings, out-patient surgery centers and other health care facilities have high-touch points beyond the main entrance that can benefit from an automatic door opener to reduce the spread of infection. Continue the contactless experience beyond check-in to include exam rooms and more.
While infection control is a driving factor, there are other notable benefits of touchless access that can improve health care operations. The more automatic doors, the more accessible the facility becomes for elderly and disabled patients. Automatic sliding and swinging doors can also make it easier to move throughout the building.
Handwashing, frequent cleaning and disinfecting and following the CDC guidelines are essential for healthy hospitals. On top of that, many are considering touchless access control.
Allegion offers touchless door hardware options that decrease the number of surfaces pedestrians touch within a hospital or health care building, which can help with prevention of COVID-19 and other illnesses. Allegion’s portfolio includes sliding doors, automatic door operators, wave actuators and contactless credentials.