5 Things Healthcare Organizations Need to Know about Triggering a Duress Alert

By Rom Eizenberg, vice president, Bluvision segment of the identification technologies business within HID Global.

Rom Eizenberg
Rom Eizenberg

A doctor or a nurse can find themselves under duress in an instant. A patient unexpectedly attacks a doctor in a room. A nurse, who is leaving her shift at 3 a.m., is jumped by a masked assailant in the hospital parking lot. A patient’s angry family member confronts a doctor about the care protocol or frustration over a lack of response to the treatment. Each of these examples can create threatening situations that generate concern and could pose a risk to the safety of hospital personnel.

Hospitals and other healthcare organizations have a responsibility to protect not only patients but also clinical staff. Growing concern about the dangers that doctors, nurses and other caregivers face on a regular basis is increasing dialogue in the healthcare industry about what is needed to ensure that staff get the support from hospital security teams and law enforcement when they need it – and at exactly the location where they need it.

About 25 percent of nurses experienced workplace violence each year. While the healthcare sector makes up just 9 percent of the overall U.S. workforce, it experiences nearly as many violent injuries as all other industries combined. Between 2005 and 2014, the rate of healthcare workplace violence increased by 110 percent in private-sector hospitals, according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

According to a 2015 study published in the Journal of Emergency Nursing, 76 percent of nurses at a private hospital system in Virginia said they had experienced physical or verbal abuse from patients in the previous year. Hospitals can utilize technology more effectively to reduce these violence rates and protect their caregivers, especially if such incidents escalate.

To trigger a duress signal that catapults security forces or police officers to the rescue, healthcare  leaders must understand the five key things about an effective response system to address real-time duress during a high-risk situation:

Easy-to-activate duress signals are needed. Hospitals need an easy and fast way for a staff member to send out a distress signal from any spot inside a facility or even in the parking lot.  The ability to send such a signal must be pervasive, reliable and simple to integrate into existing systems and tools. Indeed, simplicity is highly important. The person under duress must be able to signal the need for help with a minimal amount of friction and allow for instantaneous calls to action when the need arises. Before security personnel can arrive on the scene, technology must come to the rescue as strategic solution to this problem.

Real-time location-based tracking. Location is everything when a matter of seconds mean life, injury or death, which is why a duress signal must pinpoint for security personnel the person’s location. Whether the doctor or nurse is being attacked in a patient’s room, the parking lot, an isolated hallway or elsewhere on the healthcare campus, security personnel must be able to quickly locate the person with precision and reliability.

Notifications must be sent immediately to the correct contacts for immediate response. A signal can be sent out, but if it doesn’t go to the proper authorities, it’s useless. Hospital security personnel and first responders must be able to coordinate a quick response in an organized manner during a duress alert. If the victim can take action within the alert’s reach, help can be on the way thanks to a silent alarm radiating from a beacon.

Hospital leaders must manage duress alerts and response processes through a healthcare IoT stack.  It’s possible to tie a duress alert response mechanism together with other hospital systems on a common platform, making a duress response capability more easily manageable. The IoT (Internet of Things), specifically, has created new possibilities for hospitals to provide more intelligence, including location-based services. Hospitals no longer need to operate with disparate systems for different applications, so putting duress alert capability on a common platform, powered by low cost, low-energy Bluetooth, can efficiently provide for this added level of security for the hospital staff.

Hospital security policies and procedures must evolve to accommodate new “distress call” technologies. The proper level of security policies and procedures should be put into place to ensure the appropriate level of response to the stressful or life-threatening situation in the care setting or on campus. These protection technologies for employee safety are likely to be more widely adopted when the proper policies are put in place in a meaningful way.

In general, hospitals are becoming more connected. Nothing is isolated. Greater visibility through location-based services is needed to protect doctors and hospital staff. In high-risk situations, never has this been more urgent than it is today. Ultimately, these technologies must provide peace of mind to doctors and nurses, so they can focus on the care they provide to patients.

HID will be exhibiting at HIMSS in Orlando, February 12-15, Booth #4873

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