Smart Solutions for Staff Safety: Harnessing AI in Hospital Settings

Updated on May 10, 2024
artificial intelligence in healthcare

The risk of workplace violence has always existed in hospitals, but post-pandemic research has shown an alarming increase in such events. Whether this uptick is the result of hospitals being understaffed, overcrowded or other societal issues, workers within the healthcare setting are more likely to experience non-fatal workplace violence than law enforcement.

Demands on hospital staff are immense—with long hours, challenging patient interactions, constant exposure to infectious diseases and the inherent high stakes of their work. The escalating threat of workplace violence compounds these pressures, exacerbating issues like staff burnout and turnover— already significant challenges within the healthcare environment.

Although workplace staff safety solutions have existed for some time, hospitals haven’t widely adopted them given cost, deployment and accuracy issues. With that in mind, a new breed of solutions leveraging modern technologies like AI and machine learning are emerging to address the shortcomings of traditional offerings. 

The Need for Location Intelligence

One of the most common staff duress solutions involves installing a panic button directly behind the patient’s bed. However, the fixed location of this approach makes it extremely limited. In moments of crisis, the distressed staff member must be near the button to activate it. This assumes that the problem remains localized, ignoring the possibility of the incident moving elsewhere and rendering intervention ineffective.

There are also significant considerations about the potential escalation of safety incidents. Patients may experience fear, anger or anxiety during a highly stressful hospitalization period. In such cases, nurses reaching over a distressed patient to activate a wall-mounted panic button might exacerbate the patient’s agitation, worsening the conflict rather than calming it down.

Hospitals need location intelligence to know where a nurse is during an incident and where security must go. Newer systems have emerged to replace the stationary panic button with a wearable badge that mitigates escalation and provides better mobility to track incidents as they progress. Nevertheless, accuracy and coverage remain considerable hurdles. 

Challenges for Mobile Duress Solutions

Precision and coverage are the biggest challenges hospitals face related to mobile duress solutions. Traditional high-accuracy solutions like ultrasound and infrared come with substantial costs and operational disruptions, making widespread implementation economically unfeasible. More budget-friendly options such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth sacrifice accuracy for ease of deployment, leaving critical uncertainties about where to send responders. Many of the low-cost, ‘self-installed’ solutions additionally leave the critical location reference infrastructure vulnerable to accidental or malicious tampering leading to system failures.

Consider Bluetooth’s approximately 30-foot radius accuracy, which struggles to differentiate between floors—a crucial detail for effective security measures. This limitation often leads to uncertainties in locating individuals within multi-level facilities. While advanced systems like ultrasound and infrared offer much better accuracy, their extensive installation requirements and costs restrict their deployment to select high-priority areas, leaving significant portions of the hospital without adequate coverage.

The emergence of AI-driven solutions presents a transformative paradigm. Hospitals can achieve comprehensive, affordable campus-wide coverage without compromising accuracy by harnessing AI’s capabilities alongside cost-effective sensor technologies and sophisticated software. This new technology can decipher the intricate nuances of hospital environments to ensure precise location tracking while relying only on low-cost, easily installed and tamper-resistant infrastructure.

The Role of AI in Modern Staff Duress Solutions  

The simplest possible location infrastructure is an array of small, battery-operated beacons deployed beyond reach in the ceiling, requiring no maintenance for many years. Similar to how image-recognition algorithms get trained to recognize specific images, AI models can be trained to recognize the signal characteristics from these beacons relative to a specific room or open area (like a hallway segment). When activated, a badge sends the signal information to the cloud-hosted AI utilizing a dedicated, fast-lane radio signal that bypasses the hospital’s Wi-Fi. The AI makes sense of the information and pinpoints the badge’s location in real time.

This fusion of software and hardware enables hospital security teams to rapidly locate individuals under duress, even if they go outdoors into a walkway or garage. Anywhere these install-and-forget beacons are placed provides the necessary signals for the AI to determine the location of staff in duress—meaning that a hospital can achieve campus-wide and room-level accuracy inexpensively and quickly. Hospitals can also eliminate the costly drawback of putting patient rooms or hallways out of order during installation. 

What to Look for in Staff Safety Technology

Integrated AI-driven solutions represent a pivotal step in enhancing staff safety within hospital settings. Hospitals can significantly improve their response capabilities during safety incidents by leveraging the power of location intelligence to overcome the limitations of legacy staff duress systems. The precise and affordable coverage provided by AI-based technologies ensures rapid and accurate location tracking and contributes to a more streamlined and efficient safety infrastructure. 

As the healthcare industry continues to evolve, embracing modern solutions like AI for staff safety is not just a competitive advantage but a necessity to safeguard the well-being of healthcare workers and maintain a resilient and secure healthcare environment that complies with regulations.