Managing Healthcare Worker Duress with Location Technology

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By Mohsen Hekmatyar

Hospitals can be one of the most dangerous work environments for employees, especially when compared to staff in other industries. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the majority of workplace assaults happen to healthcare workers. The American Nurses Association also reports one in four nurses have been physically assaulted on the job. 

These statistics not only raise grave concerns about the safety of healthcare workers but also the safety of patients and visitors and risks to business operations. These risks include injury expenses, increased employee turnover, a decline in daily business operations, and low employee satisfaction rates. Keeping hospitals and other health facilities safe is crucial, which is why healthcare leaders must take advantage of any opportunity to minimize risk to employee and patient safety. Location and sensing hardware coupled with the right software can play an important role in this endeavor. 

Location Technology Variations 

IoT suppliers are using the latest technology to develop a variety of options suitable for the needs of healthcare facilities. With the variety of options available, some providers struggle to decide which solution is right for the needs of their organization. When it comes to location and sensing technology, there are two general implementation methods to consider: radio frequency (RF)-based technologies and certainty-based hybrids. 

It is important to note that single-technology RF variations, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), have the ability for signals to penetrate through ceilings and walls. Although RF technologies can expand throughout multiple rooms, the precision of location tracking decreases as it covers more space. 

Certainty-based hybrids use low-frequency, infrared, second-generation infrared (Gen2IR™), or ultrasound in addition to RF Technology. This solution is limited to single rooms and enclosed spaces but can locate equipment and people with extreme accuracy, down to a chair, bed, or workstation. For duress applications – where every second counts  – locating staff, patients and visitors quickly and accurately becomes an increasingly important feature of a healthcare facility’s selected technology.  

Devices for Duress Applications

There are a variety of device options built especially for healthcare workers to use when under duress on the job. Advanced location badges are a convenient and popular option for giving staff members the ability to quickly request help. They come in several variations. 

A button press badge involves the most straightforward application. When an employee feels threatened, they simply push a button to send their location, ID, and a timestamp to alert others that they need help. Notifications are customizable to meet the needs of the healthcare facility; for example, notifications can be audible or silent and can provide confirmation when the alert has been received. 

More sophisticated variations include fall detection badges that sense if the healthcare worker has changed from a vertical to horizontal posture, which can indicate they have fallen to the ground and automatically alert others without involvement from the wearer. Fall detection badges clip-on to a uniform and send an alert when pulled away from the staff member, either by someone attempting to take the badge or if an employee is harmed and pulls away suddenly. 

Most healthcare systems employ a combination of badges and stationary devices to build a facility-wide duress solution. Door and elevator controllers integrated with access control systems, for example, can automatically limit access within the healthcare facility. Patient safety and wander management solutions alert staff if a patient has walked or been taken off premises or into an unsafe area of the hospital. There are also security solutions specific for infants, which can prevent abduction by monitoring maternity wards. 

Stationary solutions are set in a fixed location. Panic buttons and pull cords, for example, can empower visitors and patients who need help when they are not in the presence of a staff member with a badge. 

Address Safety and Decrease Risk 

By investing in accurate and precise location and sensing services, healthcare leaders can improve employee safety in the short term while also decreasing events in the future. Real-time location systems can collect essential data and, over time, help identify risk exposure trends. Armed with these insights, healthcare leaders can build strategies unique to their facilities and increase the safety and efficacy of their operations. 

Location-based solutions like these have already been successfully adopted by many health facilities across the world. Healthcare systems have found that they can significantly decrease the severity of an incident simply by giving employees, patients, and visitors the ability to alert security staff through location technology. And in some cases, the known presence of these solutions has been enough to deter an incident from occurring. By addressing safety concerns with location and sensing services, healthcare leaders help protect workers, ensure business continuity, and mitigate risk for their organizations.

As CenTrak’s vice president of security solutions, Mohsen Hekmatyar is responsible for managing a team that supports infant protection, wandering patient and staff duress use cases. A biomedical engineer and veteran electronic security expert with more than 25 years of industry experience, Hekmatyar has spent the past 10 years promoting RFID-enabled security applications for real time locating systems (RTLS). For more information, visit CenTrak.com.

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