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Securing patients belongings in hospitals and medical centres

Theft of people's belongings in hospitals can be a significant problem, especially of smaller items such as personal electronics, phones, wallets, jewellery or cash.




Hospitals face a significant challenge with the theft of patients' belongings, particularly for small items such as personal electronics, phones, wallets, jewellery or cash. Misplacement of thousands of articles is also a common issue, ranging from eyeglasses, dentures, and hearing aids to beloved sweaters and various other possessions.

According to the American Hospital Association, as of 2021, there were approximately 924,107 staffed hospital beds in the United States. This number includes beds in all types of hospitals, including public, private, non-profit, and for-profit hospitals. However, it's important to note that the number of hospital beds can fluctuate over time due to factors such as changes in demand, shifts in healthcare policies, and changes in the overall health of the population.

Numerous factors can contribute to theft in hospitals. For instance, hospitals tend to be busy and congested environments where staff may be preoccupied with providing care and unable to keep a close eye on patients' belongings, especially if the items are not in a secure facility/unit such as a locker.


Patients may also be at risk of theft if they are incapacitated or have restricted mobility. To prevent theft, hospitals usually implement measures such as providing lockers, storage boxes, safes or bags for patients' possessions and monitoring access to patient or storage areas. Nevertheless, theft incidents still occur, despite these preventative measures.


belongings container



Ensuring the safety and security of patients' belongings is a complex task that requires more than just hard work and good intentions. It necessitates a carefully designed system and standard operating procedures to document and store patients' possessions in a secure facility (e.g a cabinet with a secure lock).


The patient's journey through a typical hospital, from the emergency department to the operating room, post-anesthesia care unit, intensive care unit, patient room, cafeteria and ultimately home, presents numerous opportunities for personal belongings to become stolen, lost, or misplaced. As a result, it is critical to keep the patient's possessions with them throughout their journey, whether they are on a bed, in a wheelchair, or being carried by the patient.


Various storage systems are used in hospitals to secure patients' belongings, depending on the institution's size, resources, and policies. Individual lockers in patient rooms or designated common storage areas are typical storage options. These lockers may be secured with a lock and metal key or a combination lock, but these present difficulties with key sharing and security breaches (e.g metal key cylinders can easily be broken open, you don’t know how many keys are floating around as they are easy and cheap to copy). Furthermore, the location of common locker rooms/storage rooms relative to the patient's mobility poses an issue. For example patients should not be expected to walk across 4 wards and up 5 floors for 20 minutes just to get to their phone to check a text message.


Some hospitals offer secure cabinets in patient rooms with individual compartments, or safes, or vaults where high-value items can be stored, but these storage options are typically only available for short-term use and they are fixed in one location. This is not ideal as patients are often moved around from room to room for procedures. Placing belongings in plastic boxes or drawers at nurses' stations is another common option, but it is less secure than lockers or cabinets.


Hospitals commonly provide patients with personal belongings bags made of plastic or fabric that are hung at the end of the patient's bed. Bags are commonly used in hospitals for patients' belongings because they provide a convenient and mobile storage solution. Bags also make it easier for hospital staff to transport patients' belongings when they are moved between areas or when patients are discharged. Additionally, bags can be labeled with the patient's name and room number, making it easier to identify their belongings and prevent them from being lost or misplaced. However, these bags are not secure and may lead to the theft of valuable items. Hospitals often advise patients' families and friends to take home items of value, as the hospital is not responsible for any belongings kept at the bedside.


To solve the problem of theft of personal belongings a solution is required that is secure, mobile and convenient so that it can move with the patient as they move throughout the hospital, and which does not require the patient to move around the hospital to faraway common storage rooms, or to hassle nurses to access their belongings. The solution requires minimal work and responsibility of all hospital staff, so they can focus on providing care and support to their patients.

patient belongings bag
patient belongings bag

Specific scenarios and considerations


For centuries, hospitals have been using plastic, nylon, or paper bags to store and transport patients' belongings. However, advancements in technology have led to the development of stronger bags made of cut-resistant materials or with security features to prevent theft and keep belongings safe. For instance, law enforcement agencies and security personnel use bags made of materials like Kevlar, high-density polyethylene, wire mesh, or PVC coatings, which are difficult to cut or tear.

Digital Keys has partnered with a hospital in New Jersey, USA who are using our 5G IoT smart padlocks to secure their strong Kevlar like patient bags. The hospital is also utilizing the Digital Keys API to add fields in their Electronic Health Record Systems software, such as an "enter patient PIN code for unlocking padlock" field. During check-in and registration, patients are asked to enter a 4-6 digit PIN code (a code they can easily remember) which is transmitted to the smart padlock over cellular networks to become their digital key, which they use to unlock their padlocks/bags throughout their stay. When the patient is discharged, their digital key is cancelled by the discharge nurse in the hospital software. The patient can then easily carry their bags and padlock whereever they go throughout the hospital, and also attach the steel reinforced locking strap/drawstring to their bed or wheelchair, so no-one can steal it. The smart padlock has tampering sensors, detecting unusual vibrations, and if anyone attempts to break the lock or bag, an alarm sounds and notifications are sent to hospital HR staff.

Moreover, the smart padlock has a GNSS chip that, when coupled with geofencing, can create a virtual boundary around the hospital or specific areas to trigger an alarm if a patient or thief attempts to exit the geofenced area with the padlock and bag. This feature can also serve as a monitoring system for patients who are at risk of wandering or elopement, such as those with dementia or mental health issues. The GNSS chip can also be used to locate the bag/patient at anytime when needed.


A Wi-Fi/Bluetooth Low Energy smartlock or codelock are not appropriate for this use case, as the hospital requires strong Wi-Fi mesh networks throughout, which would require a lot of supporting network and equipment, and the battery life is very low for Wi-Fi/BLE solutions. Moreover, one-time password codelocks generate random 8-digit numbers that cannot be set to a personal PIN of 4-6 numbers that the patient can easily remember.

patient check in software

Product solution architecture

  • Hospital staff check-in the patient staying in the same manner they do now with their same software they use now, and click 'generate digital key' button which sends a command to the smart padlock over the cellular network to accept the patient chosen PIN code from now (at discharge, nurse clicks cancel button)

  • IOT Platform is hosted at AWS in local country/region

  • Ongoing communications/data extactions can be made to smartlock at anytime over cellular networks

digital keys architecture

Business value

The issue of patient belongings theft in hospitals is a significant problem that requires a secure, mobile, and convenient solution. Hospitals currently use a variety of storage systems to secure patient belongings, but they are not always effective. Plastic or fabric bags hung at the end of the patient's bed are a common solution, but they are not secure and can lead to the theft of valuable items. Our project proposes the development of a new solution with theft-proof/cut-proof bags and 5G IoT smart padlocks that are secure, mobile, and convenient. Such a solution will not only improve the safety and security of patients' belongings but also provide a better patient experience by allowing them to have their belongings close by as they move throughout the hospital. This solution will have significant business value by improving patient satisfaction, reducing liability for hospitals, and potentially reducing the cost of lost or stolen items.

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