Meeting the Current Crisis
How hospitals are preparing for a post-COVID future
Even as we appreciate and applaud our healthcare
professionals, most of us can do little more than
watch as systems everywhere face the tremendous
pressure caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Overcrowding
in emergency rooms, Personal Protective
Equipment (PPE) shortages, and a limited number of ICU beds
are just some of the challenges facing our healthcare systems.
Healthcare administrators must meet today’s urgent needs
while remaining cognizant of the fact that their budgets are limited.
As a result, rather than waiting for entirely new technologies
to appear on the market, many facilities are looking at existing
solutions and implementing them in new ways.
HOW PHYSICAL SECURITY SYSTEMS CAN HELP
One sector that can offer healthcare facilities a wide variety
of innovative solutions is physical security. When facing a global
pandemic that requires maintaining physical distance and keeping
a close eye on potential outbreaks, a physical security system
that includes video management, access control and communications
management can be an essential tool.
Hospitals have already started putting these solutions in place,
and the results have been immediate. Improved workplace safety,
better patient care and increased staff morale. Hospital administrators
are also recognizing that many of these same solutions
have long-term applications as well. This means that upfront investments
will not be lost once we reach the other side of this
VIRTUAL INTERACTIONS WITH PATIENTS
In March and April of 2020, New York City was facing the
greatest number of COVID cases in the United States. Hospitals
were struggling, and the situation seemed especially bleak. Staff
felt vulnerable to the virus, frontline workers were quitting, and
the hospital was going through PPE at an alarming rate. This was
because, in order to prevent spreading the virus from patient to
patient every time the medical staff went into someone’s room,
they had to put on new PPE. Doing simple temperature checks
on a fioor could require several changes.
Hospital administration knew they wanted to reduce the inperson
interactions between patients and staff. This would both
cut down on PPE usage and limit possible transmission of the
virus. Virtual interaction would allow staff to continue to provide
the necessary care while mitigating some of the challenges
around cost and contamination. But they didn’t have time to wait
for a new system to be developed or deployed.
The answer was to use an existing security communications management solution to connect patient rooms with nurses’ stations
through a 2-way video intercom. Initially, they considered
having a camera installed in the ceiling of each room that could
transmit video and audio. But this would have required signifi-
cant renovations, and the hospital could not send technicians into
each room to carry out the changes.
Instead, they decided to attach the intercoms to IV stands that
they could wheel into each patient’s room. They simply had to
plug the device into one of the network outlets and configure it,
which could take place outside the room. In addition to allowing
for 2-way communication with each patient, the system also enables
medical staff to broadcast to an entire floor and to monitor
any technical problems with the intercom units.
Since implementing the solution, about 70% of the interactions
between nurses and patients with COVID-19 are now virtual.
Patients can initiate calls when they need assistance, and
nurses can check in on approximately 16 patients from their station.
The hospital is so satisfied with the results that, when they
have time, administrators are talking with other facilities to help
them implement the solution.
While this solution was developed to address a specific need
around the highly-contagious COVID-19 virus, it can also be
used in the future. Having the ability to communicate through
2-way video will allow medical staff to accurately determine a
patient’s needs and then quickly dispatch someone to a room if
REDUCING THE POSSIBILITY OF TRANSMISSION
When it comes to mitigating the risks associated with the
spread of COVID-19, being able to track the movement of hospital
staff plays an important role. One effective way to support
contact tracing is by integrating a Real-Time Location System
(RTLS) into a hospital’s physical security system.
If someone on staff has tested positive for COVID, RTLS allows
security personnel to go back and track where that person
was in the building during their shifts. Then, for example, by setting
collision time to 10 seconds and radius to within a maximum of
three meters, they can determine who spent more than 10 seconds
within less than three meters of the infected person. The hospital
then knows who else on staff needs to be tested and quarantined.
MANAGING MEDICATION AND PROTECTING
AGAINST WORKPLACE VIOLENCE
In addition to mitigating against the spread of the virus, RTLS
can also help hospitals keep track of medication and equipment.
When it comes to pharmaceuticals, hospitals must, of course,
keep a careful eye on who has access to medication and where
those medications are. But keeping track of equipment is also
important. The amount of time spent searching for portable devices,
including monitors and wheelchairs, adds up.
One way to solve this problem is to attach RTLS sensors to
hospital equipment and drug dispensary carts. Then, using Bluetooth
beacons throughout the facility, the physical security system
can triangulate the location of the RTLS sensors and display
exactly where equipment and carts are on a graphical map.
Increasingly, RTLS is also being used to improve patient and
staff safety. It is a sad fact that safety concerns related to violence
are a persistent problem in medical facilities. One way that a hospital’s
administration can help is to ensure that staff get quick
access to assistance whenever and wherever they need it.
By adding RTLS and duress buttons to staff badges, hospitals
can better protect their staff from violence by reducing response
times. If a staff member feels unsafe or in danger, they simply
have to press the duress button on their badge. This sends an immediate
notification to security personnel who, because RTLS allows
them to see exactly where the staff member is, can quickly
and appropriately respond to the alarm.
MAINTAINING THE SUPPLY OF PPE
One of the surprising challenges hospitals are facing in relation
to the COVID-19 pandemic is managing PPE. In the past,
PPE was simply available. But now, with demand increasing exponentially
both inside and outside of hospitals, administrators
are having to keep a very close eye on their inventory.
Hospitals can do this by placing a kiosk that connects with
hospital badges next to the PPE locker or closet. Then, accessing
the PPE would require first swiping a badge and then selecting
the items. The system could also be configured to pull up video
from the surrounding area and correlate it with the request. The
entire transaction would be linked to the swiped card, which
means security staff could go back and review the event, including
associated video footage.
To further protect inventory, hospitals can also set up the system
to allow staff to report any discrepancies. As staff is selecting
the equipment that they need from the locker, the kiosk shows
them exactly how many of those items are in inventory. If the
contents of the locker do not match the amounts listed on the kiosk
window, staff can click on MISSING ITEM. The system will
then send a notification to security who will start an investigation
and look at the video associated with past transactions.
HEALTHCARE AND PERSONAL PRIVACY
Because so many of the solutions for healthcare facilities involve
capturing video, ensuring that individual privacy—for both
patients and staff—is being protected at all times continues to be
important. After all, the more a hospital implements video, the
more privacy will become an issue.
To protect staff and patient privacy, images need to be blurred
on monitors located in spaces accessible to the public, like nurses’
stations. However, security staff need to be able to see faces to
identify people when incidents occur in the hospital. Video solutions
that can, by design, anonymize faces on screen but also
allow authorized security personnel to identify people when necessary
helps protect everyone.
During the pandemic, many healthcare facilities are using
their physical security systems and developing innovative solutions
to better protect staff and patients. But the impact of these
solutions will be felt long after the current crisis is brought under
control as they will also help the healthcare
sector solve persistent challenges around hospital
equipment, patient care, and workplace
This article originally appeared in the March 2021 issue of Security Today.
Ty Miller is the business development manager for Genetec in the Northeast USA.