Electronic Access Control for the Medical Facility and Beyond

December 1, 2016 Rachel Kane

Electronic access solutions can be used to manage access to medical equipment that stores valuable or hazardous items.

Steve Spatig, General Manager, Electronic Access Solutions, Southco, Inc.

The increasing mobility of equipment in the medical environment raises new cause for concern, especially when managing access to valuable or hazardous items, or confidential data stored within. Medical carts that contain pharmaceuticals and hazardous medical materials that were once housed in a central location within the healthcare facility are now more vulnerable to tampering or theft. Electronic medical records are often stored within mobile carts or wall mounted charting stations as well, putting confidential patient information at risk.

The increasing mobility of medical equipment also applies to areas outside the medical facility, such as ambulances and other types of emergency vehicles. Narcotics and valuable medical supplies housed within these vehicles must be secured in the same manner as they would in a hospital. To meet these new security challenges, and ensure compliance with healthcare industry regulations, many mobile medical equipment designers are choosing to incorporate electronic access solutions, such as intelligent electronic locks into equipment to enhance physical security.

Electronic Access Solutions

Electronic locking solutions offer many benefits compared to traditional mechanical locking mechanisms when used in medical equipment security applications, simplifying access control and eliminating key management issues. A complete electronic access system for example, consists of an intelligent electromechanical lock, user interface and remote control and monitoring capabilities.

Intelligent electronic locks are critical to the successful operation of a complete solution, granting access only to validated users and providing output for remote monitoring and audit reporting. When combined with an electronic lock, the user interface, or access control device, validates the user credential and signals the cabinet to open. Electronic locks can be operated by various types of access controllers, such as digital keypads, Bluetooth, RFID (radio frequency identification) and biometric readers.

Securing Equipment within the Medical Facility

Within the healthcare environment, securing high value supplies and confidential patient information continues to be a primary concern. Compliance with data security requirements, such as the Health Information Portability and Accounting Act (HIPAA) Title II Administrative Simplification (AS) provisions, have not only resulted in fundamental changes to healthcare operations, they have also impacted the physical security design of healthcare equipment.

Electronic locking devices can help medical facilities avoid steep fines and penalties for noncompliance by providing a record of which user gained access to medical records, when and for how long. The ability to  electronically control credentials and monitor access provides indisputable audit trail information to maintain compliance and conveniently control access to a variety of medical equipment within the medical facility, including:

  • Wall mounted charting stations and medical carts
  • Medication dispensing and storage equipment
  • Refrigerators and warming cabinets for IV fluids
  • Sanitizing machines for tablets exposed to contaminates
  • Biohazard containment systems

Electronic access systems work with existing building security systems across the medical facility to control access to carts and other types of mobile equipment. For instance, each time a wall mounted charting station equipped with a concealed electronic lock is opened using an employee’s unique credential, such as an RFID card, a signal is stored that confirms and logs access. This digital audit trail data can then be used to comply with data protection regulations.

Securing Medical Equipment on the Go

Security concerns also extend beyond the medical facility to emergency and mobile healthcare vehicles. Electronic access solutions, like self-contained systems and RFID-based access controllers, offer a highly effective solution for controlling access to medication and supplies exposed to the challenges of an ever-changing environment. For example, when assisting at the scene of multiple emergency situations daily, an ambulance may be left temporarily unattended, providing an opportunity for theft of narcotics stored within.

Self-contained electronic locking solutions offer a simplified means for incorporating electronic access into many types of medical vehicles, combining an access control device, electronic lock, electrical override and power supply into a single unit. This solution is typically battery-operated and designed for easy installation with a drop in assembly,  without additional wiring.

Southco's SC Self-Contained Electronic Locking System that incorporates an access control device, electronic lock, electrical override and power supply. 

For emergency vehicles with multiple doors and compartments that may need to be unlocked and re-locked individually, intelligent electronic rotary locks offer a simple solution for quick access. When connected to an RF controller, electronic locks can be used to easily open or close multiple doors simultaneously with a single click of an RF remote key fob.

Selecting the Appropriate Solution

Healthcare providers can safeguard mobile medical equipment used within and outside the medical facility against the risk of theft and tampering by implementing the appropriate electronic access system. Electronic access solutions designed with advanced intelligence and versatile operation options offer a simplified way to protect access to mobile medical equipment. This not only helps meets the healthcare provider’s security requirements, but can be used to demonstrate compliance with industry regulations as well. 

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