Meeting the Current Crisis

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 crisis.

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 necessary.

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 violence.

This article originally appeared in the March 2021 issue of Security Today.

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