Hospitals are centres of healing for the physically vulnerable, but hospital buildings face significant vulnerabilities of their own when it comes to access and security.

As any hospital member of staff knows, hospital buildings experience a constant influx of visitors, patients, and staff around the clock, so maintaining a secure premises can present a formidable challenge.

Only last year, LBC reported a theft of expensive diagnostic imaging equipment from Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. Theft from hospital sites not only poses a risk to patients who depend on high quality medical equipment, but it also costs the NHS a huge amount of money each year.

It’s a delicate balance. Hospitals need to facilitate accessibility for patients, staff and visitors while ensuring stringent security measures, particularly for sensitive areas like medicine cabinets, and patient records rooms, across often-numerous on-site buildings.

Modernising hospital security: the emergence of electronic key management systems and digital locks

According to Business Research Insights, the market size of global digital door lock systems is expected to reach USD 38544.1 million in 2028. The demand for keyless solutions has been steadily growing due to increased security concerns and a growing need for remote access management across a range of industries, including hospitals and healthcare facilities.

Traditional lock and key systems, while familiar and straightforward, are becoming increasingly inadequate for modern hospital environments as they lack the required sophistication, flexibility, and security. Digital locking systems on the other hand are providing hospitals around the country with increased operational efficiency and peace of mind for the staff, patients and visitors within them.

What are electronic key management systems?

Digital locks, also known as electronic locks or ‘smart locks’, are innovative security solutions that use electronic systems to control access to a building, room, or other secure area.

Unlike traditional mechanical locks that rely on physical keys, digital locks utilise various authentication methods, such as PIN codes, keycards, biometric scans or smartphone apps, to grant or deny entry.

These locks are typically battery-powered and feature built-in electronic components, such as microprocessors and sensors, to manage access control.

Why traditional lock and key systems have lost their place in modern hospital environments

Limited Security: Traditional keys can be easily lost, stolen, or duplicated – not ideal in a hospital setting, where people, sensitive patient information, valuable equipment, and pharmaceuticals need to be safeguarded at all times.

The advanced encryption technology and authentication methods of digital locks provide robust security against unauthorised access. Features like tamper detection and remote monitoring, offer further peace of mind.

Lack of Access Control: Traditional locks provide binary access – they are either locked or unlocked – without the ability to control or monitor who enters specific areas. Modern hospital environments require granular access control to restrict entry to only authorised personnel while allowing for efficient patient care and visitor access.

Digital locks empower administrators to manage access permissions, monitor door activity, and receive real-time alerts remotely from a centralised platform. This remote management capability streamlines operations and reduces the administrative burden – enhancing overall efficiency.

Inflexibility: New starters, changing responsibilities and updated processes can mean that access permissions need to be adjusted regularly. Manual lock and key systems are inflexible when it comes to supporting the dynamic and fast-paced environment of modern hospital buildings.

With electronic key management systems, administrators can grant or revoke access permissions remotely in just a few clicks.

Inconvenience: Managing and distributing physical keys across a hospital facility can be cumbersome and time-consuming. Certain members of staff may need access to multiple areas, and constantly carrying and managing keys can be impractical and inefficient.

Digital locks are easy to use for anyone to use and offer much more convenient access solutions that can be tailored to individual preferences.

Lack of visibility: Traditional keys are susceptible to misuse, leaving many hospital administrators and security personnel blind as to who has accessed a specific area, and when.

Audit trails are constantly generated by digital locks, which can be used to track who has accessed certain areas and at exactly what time. This is crucial to ensure compliance with hospital policies and regulations and can provide vital information in the instance of an investigation or security threat.

Unnecessary Expense: When a manual key is lost, stolen, or even temporarily misplaced, there are costs associated with re-cutting, or even worse, replacing the entire lock mechanism of certain doors.

One of the advantages of digital locks is that systems can be updated in a few seconds to remove access permissions for any lost or stolen key, reinstating required security and saving on replacement costs.

Many digital locks are battery-powered, which means they use minimal electricity, resulting in low utility costs, and in turn help lower the carbon footprint of a building’s operations and meet increasing ESG demands.

Decoding code locks

Bruce Donald, UK & Ireland Manager for SimonsVoss, experts in electronic door locks & modern master key systems, says that hospitals tend to switch from traditional lock and key mechanisms to ‘punch number’ code locks in an effort to enhance security.

He said, “On the one hand, code locks remove the need for physical keys and key management, which is great, but code locks can actually become less secure than keys in the long run. People pass on the code, or even worse, write the code on the door or door frame in case they forget it.”

“Code locks are also very high maintenance. The codes should be changed for every door, every month, and let’s face it, no one has that time to spare, so it rarely gets done.”

“A more secure solution would be an electronic version of the code lock – the electronic keypad lock, where PINs can be configured easily, time restricted and changed at any time via a central control system.”

Within the healthcare sector’s ongoing adoption of technological advancements to elevate patient care and operational efficiency, there is a growing case for digital electronic key management systems to uphold and further elevate patient, equipment and medical safety and security.