Using Modern Technology
Workplace violence is a growing, serious challenge in hospitals
- By John Joyce
- Mar 27, 2023
Workplace violence is a serious and growing challenge for many organizations — including those in the healthcare industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers in healthcare and social services experience the highest rates of injuries caused by workplace violence and are five times as likely to suffer a workplace violence injury than workers overall — and aggressive incidents are rising.
A survey of global health organizations found that almost 60% had seen an increase in reported cases of violence against staff during the pandemic. This ranged from verbal or physical aggression to property damage or loss due to destruction or theft of assets, to obstruction of care. In most cases, the main sources of violence were patients or their loved ones.
In response to these escalating threats within the workplace, many health organizations are ramping up security, implementing procedures to ensure better reporting and monitoring of violent incidents, and providing training in de-escalation techniques. They are also paying more attention to risk assessment and mitigation, enhancing accountability, and coordinating with stakeholders for better threat prevention and response.
Supporting Staff to Respond to Threats More Effectively
Speed of intervention is critical when there is a potential threat. One powerful and important tool to mitigate workplace violence is the introduction of a modern, unified physical security platform to allow security teams to quickly and efficiently identify incidents of concern and respond appropriately.
Unified security systems mean operators in control centers can easily leverage multiple sources to see different angles and understand different aspects of an incident. This makes investigating and responding to incidents quicker. Data from multiple cameras, access points, and other relevant sources display together in one interface.
Instead of looking up video footage in one system, and access control logs on another screen, security operators can view intrusion reports on an intuitive map and quickly access any related data from connected sensors, cameras or other devices. Within the same software, operators can lock or unlock doors, alert security teams, locate security devices, activate devices or initiate escalation protocols, facilitating quicker responses to de-escalate violent or stressful situations to better protect staff, patients and visitors.
Some platforms also offer mobile apps so that guards can tap into powerful software features while on the go. If dispatched, they can turn their cell phone into a camera so they can feed video back to the security operations center, for example.
Adding standard operating procedures (SOPs) to a unified digital platform can create systematic workflows for these types of incidents and events. This reduces guesswork about how to respond to follow all necessary steps to de-escalate violence or trigger contingency plans.
Improving Documentation of Violent Incidents and Threats
A unified security platform also streamlines the creation and escalation of incident reports, even allowing guards or security operations center staff to open a report in real time, so they do not have to wait to re-tell the story.
Many hospitals are still using paper incident reports. Without a unified system to report and track incidents of violence, administrators and local authorities may underestimate the scope and scale of threats to staff and patients.
Systematically documenting details of every violent incident is important to identify trends. For example, you may learn that several incidents involve the same perpetrators, or that violent incidents happen more often in certain places. Armed with this knowledge, your security team can take action for additional protection; training or resources are most needed.
Information on violent incidents must be shared with decision-makers to ensure that resources are made available to respond appropriately to threats. Selecting a unified security platform that includes evidence-sharing features makes the overall process more efficient and secure.
Incidents that are more serious may require the involvement of law enforcement or other authorities, and then digitized reports are created within a unified security platform and are easy to share. They are also more secure than paper reports or evidence shared via email or memory card. Configured software will allow only authenticated users access to sensitive files and keep track of who has viewed and shared evidence. This provides proof files have not been tampered with, increasing the integrity of evidence submitted to prosecutors. The software also provides tools to ensure you maintain compliance with personal data protection rules.
Additional Layers of Security in Specific Locations
Unifying data from all devices and systems within one platform makes it easy to see the big picture and quickly zero in on specific locations as required. In areas where violent incidents happen more often, such as emergency rooms and parking garages, the presence of barriers or security hardware such as cameras or automatic license plate recognition (ALPR) can improve safety for hospital staff. Access control also plays an important role by ensuring that only authorized people are able to enter sensitive zones.
Entry and exit zones are of particular concern, but technology can also improve security at the perimeter of your facility and even beyond. New solar-powered cameras do not require a wired connection to work and can connect to cell phone networks to transmit data. Technologies like this make it easier to remove blind spots and monitor security even in hard-to-reach areas.
Outside the facility walls, data from automatic license plate readers may be combined with video management system (VMS) data to help identify unexpected deliveries, investigate suspicious vehicle activity, or monitor parking areas to ensure staff and patients are safe on hospital grounds. In addition to an extra level of security, these views can help organizations optimize traffic flow. ALPR may even be used to monetize parking so patients’ families do not have to worry about keeping track of tickets or feeding a meter.
Specific areas are accessed, and are actively updated. For example, an access control system that is unified with an identity management system can immediately terminate access rights when an employee leaves or credentials are lost, reducing the risk of unauthorized access. It can be be configured to allow supervisors to enable new or temporary access rights, to allow a visiting specialist access to controlled areas.
A unified, open-architecture system also makes it easy to add new technologies such as biometric credentials to allow touchless access for surgical personnel entering operating rooms, or an extra layer of security for areas where narcotics are stored.
Improving Communication and Coordination While Protecting Privacy
Security software can also support better internal and external communication and coordination with staff and partners. Customizable dashboards allow managers, operations teams, and security staff to focus on the intelligence that is most meaningful for their roles and responsibilities.
In some cases, it may be necessary to share information with partners such as health authorities, law enforcement, EMTs, firefighters and community groups. A unified security platform makes this quick and painless, with built-in features to protect confidentiality.
Regulations establish a minimum standard for how to store and manage personal data, but best practices voluntarily go beyond the basics. A modern security platform includes privacy protection features that enable by default.
In the case of security camera footage, for example, VMS features can be enabled that pixelate people’s faces to blur identity. Users with the appropriate security clearance can choose to remove the pixilation for certain faces (for example to help identify a suspect in a violent incident) or for certain people viewing the video.
Other kinds of data can be anonymized as well. For example, operations managers may find it useful to use access control data or video analytics to monitor room usage and availability. These users can be granted permission to see how many people enter and exit without identifying who comes and goes.
In addition to choosing physical security solutions developed with privacy in mind, healthcare organizations should ensure and verify that their suppliers and partners are equally committed to protecting personal data.
Security systems collect and store a lot of sensitive data, including personally identifiable information linked to staff, patients, contractors, and visitors. Look for a software provider who cannot only provide details on their cybersecurity protocols but who will also work closely with your IT teams to understand the architecture of your networks and approach to cybersecurity.
Consolidation and Centralization
Over the past few decades, rapid consolidation — driven by regulatory changes, technological innovations, financial pressures, and market dynamics — has changed the landscape of the healthcare industry. Analysts predict this trend will continue in the near future. One report from Deloitte estimated that after consolidation in the next decade only 50% of current health systems will likely remain.
Rather than maintaining a patchwork of different systems after a merger or acquisition, it is practical and preferable to unify these disparate systems. A unified platform offers many benefits, including the potential for shared services or centralized security monitoring and the ability for staff to use one access control credential at multiple locations.
Some health organizations may also realize important cost savings. This can range from efficiencies gained from better monitoring and control of heating, cooling and lighting systems across multiple campuses to the reduction in time required during the onboarding of staff as they train on the software.
Healthcare administrators face increasingly difficult challenges. In this environment, they must secure facilities and campuses and provide uncompromised service. Unified, open-architecture security solutions are a source of untapped resources that can serve them in this mission. The key that unlocks these resources is a collaborative approach—security, facilities, and IT departments can work together to create unified security strategies that not only enable faster responses to security threats but also improve efficiency and enhance the patient experience.
This article originally appeared in the November / December 2022 issue of Security Today.