Balancing Safety Security and Privacy

How network video and audio are helping hospitals elevate patient care and workplace safety

Hospital safety and security is a series of if-then scenarios. If we can prevent patients from falling out of bed, then we can avoid serious, costly injuries. If we can prevent workplace violence, then we can reduce staff stress, burnout and resignations. If we can continuously monitor critical patients remotely, then we can spot subtle changes and avert health crises. To achieve those desired outcome hospitals are embedding sophisticated surveillance technology – a tightly integrated solution of network video, audio and analytics – into day-to-day operations.

Most hospitals initially invested in video cameras for security purposes. As they’ve become more proficient with the technology, they’ve begun exploring other ways to benefit from their investment. With the advent of sophisticated video and audio analytics, hospitals are discovering they can use their network cameras to augment patient care and raise workplace safety and security to a whole new level. Because video analytics can process and analyze images with surgical precision, they can provide hospital staff with actionable information in real time.

Audio analytics are adding another valuable layer to situational awareness. With alerts from cameras enhanced with intelligent eyes and ears, hospital staff are reacting more quickly and decisively to potential threats like verbal aggression, breaking glass, gunshots and more.

Today we’re finding healthcare managers using the technology to help them assess and mitigate risks, oversee adherence to patient care standards and plan staff allocation. In the event of a pandemic surge, cameras will allow clinical staff remotely observe patients and manage their care while minimizing the risk of face-to-face interaction.

Hospital security managers are drawing insights from their surveillance systems to help improve overall safety and security as well as allocate resources more effectively. For instance, in choosing to deploy intelligent cameras at lower-risk entrances, they’re able to free up manpower for more critical locations like behavioral wards and emergency rooms. They’re adding audio analytics to provide early warning of potentially explosive events so that they can respond proactively and diffuse the situation before it can escalate out of hand.

To help you appreciate the broader contribution surveillance cameras could make to your hospital operations, let’s look at a few innovative applications.


One leading issue for hospitals is mitigating patient falls. According to research accumulated by the Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare (JCCTH), U.S. hospitals report an average of six patient falls a month. With over 70,000 falls occurring in hospitals across the country annually, the financial impact to the healthcare industry is significant. Patient falls can cost an average hospital more than $1.6 million annually – an expense that’s not reimbursable through private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. If cases of severe injuries, where patient stays could increase by six days or more, the amount could be considerably higher.

To mitigate these events, some hospitals are using network cameras as virtual patient watchers. With analytics, they’re capable of detecting and alerting staff to patient activity that might lead to a fall. And if a fall does occur, the cameras can immediately trigger a coded alarm for a rapid response team. This is critical because statistic show that early detection ensures the best outcome for the patient.

So how does this work? The video analytic can be programmed to automatically alert when the patient crosses a specific boundary, such as the edge of the bed. Should this happen, a message is immediately sent to a nurse’s station, a remote patient monitoring control center, or a care team member’s mobile phone along with real-time video of the situation.

If audio analytics are employed, the cameras can detect the sounds of patient stress and provide an early warning of concern. Using network cameras in this role is especially useful for patients in private rooms or where staff-to-patient ratios are being stretched to the limit.

Medical facilities like Lee Health and Nemours Children’s Hospital in Florida are good examples of this type of deployment.


Another major concern for hospitals is workplace violence. Healthcare workers can be easy targets for patients or family members’ rage, confusion or anxiety. In fact, workplace violence is four times higher for hospital staff than any other profession – everything from verbal abuse to physical assault. According to the Becker’s Hospital Review, a publication for hospital decision-makers, over 66% of nurses report having experienced workplace violence. This has led to a negative impact on patient care due to stress-related absences and burnout.

To counteract the problem, hospitals are deploying intelligent surveillance system to better protect staff and patients. They’re integrating their network cameras with their access control systems to ensure only authorized personnel enter restricted areas like operating arenas and pharmacies. They’re adding video analytics to detect and prevent tailgating incidents and suspicious loitering at entry points and fire exits.

They’re linking network cameras with network audio systems so that security monitoring the cameras can direct verbal warnings over network loudspeakers to anyone engaging in negative behavior. They’re quipping their cameras with intelligence audio analytics like aggression detection that can instantly notify security staff of potentially dangerous interactions —far faster than the time it takes to phone for help or activate a panic button – so o that responders arrive on the scene faster and hopefully defuse the situation before it escalates.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital in Los Angeles is a good example of this type of deployment.


To fend off accusations of misconduct, some hospitals are equipping their public safety officers, emergency responders and ambulance/ transport staff with body worn cameras (BWCs) to document their interactions with patients, visitors and the general public. These wireless-network cameras are like those used by law enforcement and serve a similar purpose: defend against complaints and reduce the risk of costly litigation.

Despite the obvious advantages, many hospitals have been reluctant to adopt BWC technology due to concerns about HIPAA compliance and individual privacy. The easiest way for a hospital’s security technology team to allay these concerns is to establish procedures to handle BWC footage the same as any other video captured by hospital cameras and stored on hospital servers. This means configuring the video management system to only allow HIPAA-compliant personnel to watch streaming video and review stored footage and instituting strict policies and procedures for access.


While there’s often little expectation of privacy during a hospital stay, some hospitals are configuring their camera systems to help them intrude less frequently on their patients without sacrificing the quality of care. Nemours Children’s Hospital is a case in point. Paramedics continuously monitor the vital signs of highrisk patients from a tactical logistics center. If a concern arises, like a sudden spike in temperature, the paramedic turns on the bedside network camera to see how the patient is doing.

If the situation warrants, the paramedic alerts a rapid response team to address the problem. If patient is fine, the camera is turned off. Since an LED light automatically illuminates whenever the camera is live, it affords the patient some privacy while assuring that their health is being closely monitored even when medical staff isn’t in the room. This arrangement also helps dramatically reduce false alarms and avoid unnecessary code blues.

Remote video monitoring can also be used to independently verify that clinicians are following procedural checklists, administering the correct dosage of medication or performing other clinical activity on a timely basis. It’s this kind of checks and balances that not only assures proper patient care but also averts potential problems that could lead to litigation.

When it comes to the privacy of employees and the general public, other rules may apply, depending on the hospital and the state in which it operates.

For instance, many states require that hospitals publicly post that the premises are under active video and audio surveillance. In most states, anyone committing a crime or trespassing in restricted areas automatically relinquishes their right privacy in reference to being recorded. Employees, on the other hand, are sometimes protected by union rules and therefore have some expectation of privacy in carrying out their duties.

In some states there is a two-party expectation of privacy regarding audio recording. In the case of audio analytics, however, HIPAA concerns don’t apply since the microphones are only listening for specific sound patterns, rather than conversations, and the audio isn’t being recorded and stored.

To ensure compliance with HIPAA, local and state regulations, hospitals should always implement a strong policy regarding virtual patient observation and viewing, storing and releasing recordings from conventional and body worn cameras. Furthermore, those policies should be developed with input from the hospital’s risk management and/or legal department to ensure HIPAA compliance and reduce any liability.


As network cameras continue to advance, it’s clear that their value can extend far beyond hospital security. The situational awareness they provide – whether through virtual patient observation, traditional surveillance of activity using conventional and body worn cameras, or video and audio analytics – can help hospitals respond more quickly and decisively to critical events, reduce patient falls and injuries, improve patient care, avert costly litigation and safeguard the welfare of patients, staff, and visitors.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2020 issue of Security Today.


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