Focus: Security

Protecting healthcare workers with location technology

By Mohsen Hekmatyar / Special to Healthcare Facilities Today
March 26, 2020

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, healthcare and social service workers are nearly five times as likely to suffer a serious workplace violence injury than workers in other sectors. Worker safety is no longer just a concern for professionals managing healthcare facilities – congress is reviewing a bill that, if enacted, will require healthcare employers to develop a violence prevention plan for their organizations.

Rather than wait for a decision and implement changes under pressure, more healthcare leaders should consider taking a proactive approach to this issue and begin considering ways to address violence in healthcare settings today. One place to start: location technology.

Choosing the right application

Although typically associated with asset management and hand hygiene compliance, location technology can play a significant role in ensuring worker safety by reinforcing security measures and enabling quick and reliable remote communication. Having help at the touch of a button also creates peace of mind for employees and can help avoid incidents from occurring, as the visual of the solution itself is sometimes enough to curb unsafe activity.

There are two features healthcare facilities should keep in mind when evaluating location technology solutions: the user’s exact location and transmission time. The most sophisticated solutions can also prioritize duress alerts over other network activity and provide acknowledgements back to the person who initiated the notification. Common location technology applications include advanced badges, stationary buttons and security controllers.

Advanced staff badges 

Badges can be a life-saving tool for employees under duress. Location badge solutions are designed to call for help, sending a notification with the individual’s ID, location and timestamp to those in charge of protecting a given facility. Depending on the design, badges can be activated in multiple ways, including button-press, pull-away and tilt.

Button-press: This is typically the most standard and commonly executed badge solution. If a worker feels threatened in any way, they simply press the button on their badge to send a notification that can be audible or silent, depending on the preference of the facility. In either case, the notification reaches a contact who is able to immediately track down the worker’s location and offer assistance or call for help.

Pull-away: Badges with a pull-away feature offer a few applications. If an employee has their badge tethered to their belt or shirt and another person attempts to pull it away, an alarm or signal is activated, again notifying others. The same applies in situations where the worker has unintentionally harmed themselves. For example, if a worker burns their hand and pulls away, the badge will activate and send a notification.

Tilt: A more sophisticated badge design, tilt – or fall detection – badges require less involvement from the user. Fall detection badges automatically detect changes in the employee’s posture, which can be especially useful in situations where a worker falls to the ground during an attack and can’t access their button to call for help.

Stationary solutions and security controllers 

When creating a violence prevention plan, it’s important to take into account those individuals that might not always have quick access to a badge, like patients, visitors and even administrative employees within a healthcare organization.

One effective way to mitigate risk for these groups is to install fixed-location solutions throughout the facility, including pull-cord units and stationary panic buttons. Another is the use of security controllers, or sensors that limit access to specific locations, restricting unauthorized activity and containing violent situations so they cannot escalate.

Though these solutions have been in use for some time, today’s most advanced solutions are built with RFID-enabled location technology and connect to a healthcare facility’s real-time location system. Integrated with video surveillance, they can offer greater monitoring capabilities and, if need be, forensic evidence.

Powering your solution  

Applications are only one part of a location technology solution; it’s also important to understand the best way to power these devices. Depending on the needs of your healthcare facility, you will want to consider wall penetrating technologies, which leverage radio frequency, or wall constrained technologies, which are certainty-based and combine RF with secondary technology.

Wall penetrating vs. wall constrained technologies:

RF-based technology is relatively mainstream in industries featuring locating systems, making it great for scalability and flexibility. Its signals can penetrate through walls, making it an essential component for sending real-time duress notifications. Different types of RF-based technology include Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE)). RF-only solutions can provide a proximation of location but are unable to contain the location with certainty to specific floors or areas without the use of additional technologies.

Compare this to certainty-based hybrid technologies, which can be enclosed in a particular space, making them more precise and helpful in situations where you need to accurately locate people and assets – allowing staff to locate people at the room, bed, and even chair level. An added benefit is the ability to support BLE and Wi-Fi-based applications and simultaneously scale up to support certainty-based applications, such as staff duress. Infrared and ultrasound technology are both examples of certainty-based hybrid locating technologies. 

Healthcare facility or security managers will often pursue a combination of the two to support their violence prevention plans, as well as a combination of badges and stationary solutions. However, your solution takes shape, it’s time to recognize how facility professionals can help address the epidemic of healthcare workplace violence and protect workers, patients and visitors within their organizations. For many, locating technology can be a great first step.

Mohsen Hekmatyar is the Vice President of Sales, Security Solutions with CenTrak.com.

 

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