Locking Medication Carts

Mobile medical carts are an essential piece of equipment in healthcare facilities. Nurses, doctors, and caregiving professionals rely on various medical cart types to provide everything from emergency aid to anesthesia and prescription meds.

Unfortunately, drug theft and drug diversion are two of the most common risks associated with working in the healthcare sector. Find out the different ways you can keep the medications in your med carts safe from unauthorized access.

Why Securing Your Medical Carts is Important

According to a 2020 Protenus report, drug diversion – the act of transferring legally prescribed controlled substances to an unauthorized person – is responsible for over $183 million worth of lost doses.

Addressing the issue of stolen or diverted drugs has long been described as one of the primary challenges of the healthcare industry. The DEA even devotes some of its resources to the Diversion Control Division, created for the sole purpose of investigating this phenomenon. However, there is only so much law enforcement can do after the fact.

Preventing drug theft and diversion begins with good security practices, including properly secured medical carts. Fortunately, there are many locking options and other security systems available for your fleet.

Physical and Mechanical Locking Systems

Mechanical locks and physical keys remain among the simplest and most cost-effective ways to secure most med cart types. Today, there are few crash carts or transfer carts without a key locking system.

There are multiple ways to secure your drawers from unauthorized access. Some may work better than others for you, depending on your carts’ design and features.

Standard key lock

The most basic locking system for your medical carts is the standard mechanical lock and key. Specific models feature a single key to lock all drawers, while others may have individual locks for multiple drawers, doors, or cases.

The primary advantages of a standard key lock are cost and adaptability. No matter which cart system you possess, you can install locks easily and inexpensively on nearly any drawer or door.

However, key locks are not without their drawbacks. The more individual locks your cart fleet possesses, the more keys your personnel need to carry, which can slow them down.

Also, even though some of the more expensive and better-designed locks can prevent (or at least slow down) lock-picking attempts, all mechanical locks are vulnerable to key theft.

Lock bar

A lock bar is an external metal bar physically blocking the drawers from opening. They are typically bolted or screwed into the medical cart from the inside.

Instead of using an integrated lock to secure the lock bar in place, lock bars employ padlocks instead, making them compatible with a wide array of commercially available padlock models. Consequently, you can install padlocks opened using either keys or number combinations, depending on what you find most practical.

Although padlocks are stronger than internal locks, the lock bar is only as secure as the padlock itself is. Lock bars also block access to every drawer when closed, which may be inconvenient if some contain sensitive medication or equipment.

Breakaway seals

Although not a type of lock and key, breakaway seals are a type of one-use safety device that you can use in place of a padlock.

Closing a breakaway seal is done the same way as with a padlock; insert the loose arm into the lock body. Seals differ from padlocks by their lack of a mechanism allowing you to open them again. Once closed, the only way to open a breakaway seal is to snap the loop or physically destroy it in some other manner.

Breakaway seals are not difficult to destroy (an average adult can break one by hand). However, their primary purpose is to serve as tamper evidence, and they’re best used to complement an existing locking mechanism instead of replacing one.

Seals are inexpensive, sold in packs of 100 or more, and feature bright colors and serial numbers in big, easily readable numbers. These features make it easy to determine whether somebody has tampered with a particular drawer or medical cart.

Electronic Locking Systems

Electronic locking mechanisms are more secure than traditional mechanical systems. As long as your personnel observes proper security habits, electronically locked med carts can be very safe.

Keep in mind that many of these systems, including mechanisms advertised as keyless, may still feature backup mechanical key lock overrides. They exist in case the electronics fail or run out of power for any reason.

Advanced electronic locking systems can be Wi-Fi connected and networked with your facility’s internal network, allowing your IT staff to remotely reprogram each lock without the need to access every individual device. They may also possess additional security features, such as automatic relocking or logging of unlocking events.

Number keypad lock

An electronic lock with a number keypad functions as an electronic combination lock. Each lock must first be configured to accept a specific combination of numbers (usually between 4 and 6 digits). Once set, the only way to unlock the keypad lock is to enter the correct numbers.

Keypad locks are safe, effective, and commonly employed electronic locking mechanisms used in many other applications outside of healthcare, such as personal safes. They have a small footprint and do not require your personnel to carry around keys, fobs, cards, or unlocking devices.

If you decide to equip your medical carts with keypad locks, you should adopt good security habits, such as regularly changing the combination.

Advanced models may run off the cart’s power system (if it has one), eliminating the need to use and replace batteries. However, even the battery-operated models usually have a long life, typically lasting about 10 to 12 months if used daily.

Proximity card reader

Electronic locks featuring proximity card readers (also called prox cards) possess a radio frequency identification sensor (RFID) designed to detect the presence of an approved card without having to insert it into a slot.

Operating a proximity card reader is straightforward; simply hold the keycard near the sensor, and it detects the card, emits a beep, and then unlocks.

Proximity card readers are rarely used as standalone locking mechanisms, particularly on medical carts intended to store sensitive medical equipment. Usually, you will find dual locking mechanisms combining the proximity card reader with the number keypad, requiring the user to possess an approved card and know the correct combination.

This dual security system is particularly effective for securing the most sensitive medication, such as benzodiazepines, amphetamines, or opiates.

Biometric reader

A biometric reader is an electronic lock type that does not require keys, cards, or a number combination for its primary locking device. Instead, the biometric reader features a sensor designed to detect and record fingerprints.

As demonstrated by fingerprint identification techniques used since the 19th century by law enforcement and forensics, every human has a different fingerprint, allowing biometric readers to restrict access only to specific individuals.

If you intend to install biometric readers on your medical carts, make sure to use a proven, high-quality model; cheap biometric readers are infamous for failing to read fingerprints correctly, often requiring users to use the backup key instead.

Like prox card readers, many biometric readers are available as part of dual locking mechanisms, used in conjunction with a keypad lock or a prox card.

electronic medical carts

Additional Security Measures

Protecting the contents of your med carts is essential, but you may also find yourself needing to secure other elements from theft or tampering. These extra security systems offer examples of what could happen and why you may want additional measures.

Wall-mounted tethers

A wall-mounted tether secures the whole cart to a wall using a chain or a steel wire rope. Tethers are ideal for securing medical carts when they are not currently used, such as in a storage room.

Wall tethers usually feature mechanical locking devices. Although they are not intended to serve as the primary security system, they offer an extra layer of security against theft and break-ins when the carts are not in use around the ward.

Laptop cable locks

Although preventing drug theft and diversion are the primary purposes of security devices on medical carts, potential thieves may also target the laptops used on your point-of-care carts.

Fortunately, there are also solutions to prevent laptop thefts, such as laptop cable locks. These locks tether the laptop onto the cart and use mechanical locks, requiring either a key or a number combination.

Dedicated narcotics containers

Not every piece of equipment or medication in a crash cart needs to have the same level of security as narcotic substances.

For organizational purposes, you may find it practical to have a separate container in your medical cart, reserved exclusively for storing your sensitive medication. This container may feature its own security system, requiring its own key, card, or number combination.

The Top Priority is Patient Safety and Security

At Scott-Clark Medical, we understand the security risks and concerns that caregiving facilities face every day. For this reason, we offer a wide array of medical carts and ancillary peripherals, capable of accepting any locking device or security system you wish. If you require a custom cart design, we can adapt one of our existing designs or fabricate one from scratch, depending on your specifications.

If you have any questions or requests regarding our products, please call us at (512) 756-7300.

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