Transforming Healthcare Security

Transforming Healthcare Security

Understanding what situations need to be addressed

Security is a top priority at healthcare facilities across the country, but developing and deploying an effective healthcare security strategy is a challenging process. Leaders need to work with multiple departments to understand what situations need to be addressed and how everyone can work together to keep patients, staff and visitors safe.

The key to any strong security solution is good communication. That can be communication between departments, as well as how information is communicated throughout a facility. That’s why so many healthcare organizations are deploying mass notification systems to help share information during security events.

Using Existing Technology to Reach Everyone

During an emergency, two substantial challenges are reaching everyone who needs to receive a message and getting that message out quickly. A mass notification system helps solve both of these issues by making it easier to activate urgent messages and having it reach devices that are already in place throughout many healthcare facilities.

One of the reasons healthcare organizations are turning to mass notification systems is because of its ability to integrate with existing technology. IP phones in rooms, IP speakers in hallways, desktop computers at nurses’ stations, and digital signage in visitor areas are just some of the devices that can leveraged for audio and text alerts throughout a facility.

Depending on how robust the system is, this functionality could be extended to mobile devices and other pieces of technology. This same ecosystem can also be used to trigger notifications, with added integrations to devices like panic buttons.

All of these factors contribute to one of the biggest advantages of a mass notification system, flexibility. The more ways you can reach people, the less likely it is that they miss a message, and the easier you make it to trigger a message, the more quickly people can begin responding.

This flexibility extends to a healthcare organization’s ability to plan for any kind of security event their organization is likely to encounter. Message templates can be built well in advance of an event and loaded into the system to be deployed at a moment’s notice.

It also gives administrators the opportunity to develop groups for delivering mass notifications. This means they can choose alerts that will only reach security personnel or specific members of their staff.

The Mobile Element

Mobile devices can be particularly useful in healthcare environments when combined with mass notification. Beyond delivering mass SMS text messages, users with the right permissions can also trigger notifications right from their phones through an app. This means they don’t need to get to a desktop computer to activate an alert, speeding up the notification process. Mobile notifications can also ask recipients for a response. In healthcare environments, this can help to understand who is safe and who needs assistance, as well as assist with providing quick staffing information.

Because mass notification systems often allow administrators to develop groups to receive certain notifications, if a hospital experiences an influx of patients or severe weather causes staffing issues, mass notifications can help recruit available staff quickly to let them know they are needed.

Thanks to this communications system, staff members will not need to wait for direction from a superior but receive the same message at the same time and move forward with the necessary actions. Once healthcare professionals are accustomed to the system, they will also realize its utility in making their jobs easier and simplifying their responses to not only emergency events but other situations as well.

Designating Zones for Events

Not every event warrants alerting an entire organization. In some instances, you may only need to reach your security team, or you may want to avoid sending critical code blue pages to sensitive visitor areas. With a mass notification system, administrators can establish zones so messages only play in select areas and get information to the people who are both best equipped to respond or are in most danger.

This could include sending alerts to a specific floor or wing of a hospital or only sending a message to a doctor’s lounge or security office. This can help make responses more efficient and avoid having messages cause undo anxiety by being heard by family members.

Trigger lockdowns with mass notification. Depending on the event, a lockdown may need to be initiated. This could be used keep a dangerous individual in a particular area of a facility or be used to prevent people from leaving if a baby is taken from the maternity ward.

Using electronic door locks, when a notification is triggered, it can also cause doors to lock. This can be used as an extra level of protection for people within a facility by preventing them from coming into contact with someone that might mean them harm. IoT Integration. Similar integrations can be made with Internet of Things devices to trigger alerts using email notifications and contact closures. For example, many hospitals now connect their mass notification systems to patient RFID tags. Discovering a patient has wandered away from a designated area can put the patient at risk and waste valuable resources.

When patients leave an area, the RFID system triggers an alert to the mass notification system, which can then relay a message to hospital staff, and even play a message to overhead speakers in the area to encourage the patient to remain where they are or return to their bed. This helps avert potential security issues before they have a chance to get out of hand.

Remote site communication. Mass notification systems can also be used to enhance communication and safety at remote sites. While smaller clinics may not have the same technology amenities as their hospital counterparts, they can still be connected to an organization’s mass notification system.

This can help keep everyone in your organization aware of security events, and allow those at remote sites to ask for additional assistance should they require it. It can also keep them updated about severe weather events that might impact their daily operations through automatic alerts triggered through monitored CAP feeds.

Managing a response. It is not just about getting the word out though. Healthcare organizations also need to provide assistance and assess situations as they unfold, updating their response to meet the moment. In addition to sending alerts, mass notifications can launch conference calls and collaboration tools with specific team members who can manage a response even if they are not physically in the same room. This can be crucial if a security director is off-site or if staff need to call in details about a situation as it is happening.

By bringing the right people together as soon as a notification is launched, healthcare organizations can get insight into an ongoing event and determine the best course of action to mitigate security concerns.

This can be much more effective than manually trying to gather people in a conference call or web-based collaboration tool, which can delay a response or cause undue technical difficulties. In addition, new staff members who are not as familiar with the emergency management process will not have to navigate new technology if communication is conducted entirely through the mass notification system.

More than Just Security

Of course, a mass notification system can be used for more than just security events. With the ability to schedule messages, healthcare facilities can also use it for a wide range of tasks. For example, you can schedule messages that are broadcast throughout a hospital to signal that visiting hours are over. This helps improve the ROI on the system and helps to ensure it is working properly. These every day uses can also serve as discrete tests to ensure messages are reaching the right devices making it more likely the system will work as intended when it is deployed during an emergency situation.

This article originally appeared in the March 2020 issue of Security Today.

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