Steve Spatig / General Manager of Electronic Access Solutions / Southco
In modern medical practice, efficiency is key. Newer technologies allow for the mobility of medical equipment, letting personnel bring medical supplies and machines closer to patients, whether they are in the emergency room or an emergency vehicle. But with this improved accessibility, how can hospitals and healthcare facilities ensure that valuable medical equipment and narcotics are properly secured?
Making patient-care supplies available from mobile medical equipment while protecting them against unauthorized access is a challenge hospital administrators face on a daily basis. Pharmaceuticals, biologics and other valuable or hazardous medical materials stored within mobile carts and cabinets must be locked away when not in use to prevent theft, idle or malicious tampering.
In addition, privacy concerns and increasing enforcement of Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations dictate that patient information, such as electronic medical records, must also be accessible only to legitimate users. Finding a practical way to secure these items is imperative. Engineers designing for the medical environment, from hospital rooms to ambulances, are equally aware of the challenge.
Intelligent electronic locking mechanisms
Integrating intelligent electronic locking mechanisms into mobile medical equipment, such as medication dispensing carts, can significantly improve security and accountability in healthcare settings. Concealed electronic locks and latches, when combined with access-control devices such as digital keypads or RFID devices, provide an effective solution for upgrading the security of existing carts, cabinets and workstations.
Successful electronic access systems comprise four basic elements: An access control device, an electronic lock, remote monitoring and manual override. Consistent operation dependents on a high-quality, reliable electronic lock. The associated access controller, or user interface, validates the user credential and signals the cabinet to open. Once the electronic signal triggers access, a digital signature is created and archived for an audit trail, and can be accessed locally or remotely. Electronic locks can operate through a variety of access control devices, such as digital keypads, Bluetooth controllers, RFID and biometric readers.
Audit trail capability and regulatory compliance
When controlling valuable pharmaceuticals and potentially dangerous medical supplies such as narcotics or biohazards, audit trails are critical for tracking access and inventory. Hospital dispensing and storage equipment, refrigerators and warming cabinets for biologics and IV fluids, and blood banks all present security risks. Security of confidential patient information is also a priority, with medical facilities facing large fines and penalties for noncompliance with HIPAA and the HITECH Act.
Intelligent and concealed electronic locks offer a unique and efficient way to control access and maintain security of valuable information and medical supplies. Electronic locking devices can provide a record of which user gained access, when and for how long. With complete control of credentialing, a hospital administrator can have indisputable evidence of when records were accessed, and by whom.
The alternative–manual record-keeping–is often less convenient. A digital record can facilitate production of audit trail reports and can assist with investigations of discrepancies or potential security breaches. With an electronic access system in place, electronic credentials may be easily granted or revoked, eliminating key management issues. Additionally, electronic locks can be networked with a medical facility’s existing security system to monitor and control access remotely.
A solution for security
The security of mobile medical equipment applies to carts and equipment within a medical facility, as well as to mobile providers of healthcare services. Specialty vehicles such as ambulances, mobile medical aid units and home healthcare service providers operate under the same requirements as hospitals with regard to tracking medications and supplies.
Unfortunately, these entities may experience greater security challenges than hospitals. Criminals are known to target emergency vehicles in search of narcotics, entering a vehicle while the medical team is attending to an emergency. In many cases, EMS personnel may not be aware of theft until vehicle supplies are inventoried later. Shift changes among emergency workers makes controlling access even more difficult.
Depending on the needed level of access control, there are many options for securing medical equipment and supplies on the go. They include:
• Self-contained systems: An installation of fully self-contained electronic locking systems constitutes a highly effective, economical solution for controlling access to emergency vehicles. New or existing storage cabinets within a vehicle are easily outfitted with these battery-operated, audit-trail-capable locks.
• Electronic rotary locks: Emergency vehicles have numerous doors and compartments, which may need to be unlocked and re-locked one by one–a time-consuming task during an emergency. For faster, easier control, intelligent electronic rotary locks connected to an RF controller can be used to open or close multiple doors simultaneously with a single key fob click.
• Networked access solutions: Depending on the hospital or healthcare facility’s security requirements, fully networked access controllers can also be installed. These devices communicate wirelessly with a hospital’s existing network, so that when the vehicle approaches the building, updated audit-trail and credential information is instantly registered.
Simplified electronic access control
A self-contained electronic locking system is a simple and cost-effective option for protecting new enclosures or upgrading existing equipment. Self-contained solutions typically incorporate an access-control device, electronic lock, electrical override and power supply into a single unit. This solution installs easily with drop-in assemblies that can be mounted into standard panel preps without additional wiring and feature simple battery operation.
Self-contained electronic access systems work with existing building security systems across the medical facility to control access, in that the same ID badges used with an RFID-based, card-access system for building access can be used with cabinets, carts and equipment across the medical facility. Each time a cabinet equipped with a self-contained solution is opened using an RFID badge, it stores a signal that confirms and logs access. In addition, audit trail data can be downloaded onto a separate utility key, which can then be read through any computer USB port. This digital record of information can then be used to demonstrate compliance with regulatory requirements.
Consider electronic access
Installing electronic locks with audit-trail capabilities can be a simple, economical and highly effective upgrade that can improve security and accountability in medical supply containment. Monitoring and controlling pharmaceuticals, biologics and other valuable or hazardous materials that are at risk of theft or tampering, as well as HIPAA-protected data, is easily achieved by implementing the appropriate electronic access solution.
Electronic access solutions combine intelligent locking and access control to protect patient information and medical supplies, offering an effective solution for safeguarding sensitive materials a healthcare setting. Hospital and healthcare administrators, as well as medical design engineers, may find electronic access a viable solution for today’s security and access-control challenges.