Real Time Location System (RTLS) solutions alone won’t solve the workplace violence challenge in healthcare

Author, Darren Chalmers-Stevens, Group Chief Operating Officer at CriticalArc (and one of IFSEC Global’s top influencers in security 2022)

Protecting staff from workplace violence is now a top priority for most healthcare organizations

Few in the sector doubt that verbal and physical abuse is getting worse and that this is making it harder to recruit and retain staff. Anecdotally we know this is true, with daily news reporting incident after incident across the world. The workplace violence committees that have been established by most healthcare organizations to focus on this issue have a difficult problem to solve. To succeed, they will have to look beyond traditional solutions, and beyond just the hospital environment. We are seeing progressive healthcare organizations starting to do so. Why ‘beyond hospitals’? Because a large proportion of front-line healthcare staff doesn’t exclusively work in hospitals, a growing number are on call, in remote clinics and neighborhood practices, in pharmacies and dental surgeries, and working in the community in patients’ homes and, in the case of paramedics, literally on the road.

We must also consider those that do work in a hospital, that have to walk to and from transport hubs or local parking garages which aren’t covered by RTLS solutions. Those people are not helped by protective measures that are focused solely on physical premises and specific high-risk areas such as hospital emergency departments, measures that end at the hospital boundary. They need to be kept safe everywhere. So, it’s good news that we are starting to see fresh thinking. Rather than continuing to rely on reactive and static technologies such as CCTV or focusing investment on protecting physical premises with access control, healthcare providers are looking to other sectors with similar challenges to their own, to see what lessons can be learned.

How do you keep your people safe, and make sure they feel safe?

How do you guarantee that they can call for help quickly, wherever they are, and be confident of a rapid response every time? How can you also make it easy for every staff member to report general concerns or send anonymous ‘tips’ if they see something that doesn’t look right? And how can you automate your systems so that all such reports are handled efficiently, and logged automatically so that they can be dealt with proactively, audited, and reviewed?

The higher education sector is an obvious example of where these requirements are being satisfied. Just like healthcare providers, universities have a duty of care for large populations working on complex dispersed sites with extensive grounds that house multiple buildings. These sites are often open 24/7, have a range of operating environments that include high-risk laboratories and engineering facilities, often in city center locations; and their populations aren’t static, but travel around, often alone, and still need protection wherever they are.

This is something that can’t be provided by traditional fixed-point alarms, real-time location systems (RTLS), surveillance cameras, or other physical security measures. RTLS solutions, which rely on standalone networks, are expensive to implement – across an entire hospital or healthcare campus, prohibitively so. While they may have a place in some settings, when integrated with a unified solution like SafeZone, on their own they offer limited value; when staff press the button all that happens is an alert is raised, but little else. There is no real-time coordination and response by the on-site first responders and no context about what sort of help is required. Without two-way communications, information can’t be shared between control rooms and staff calling for help – a significant disadvantage in active incidents. They have no lone-worker functions either.

So, it’s good news that healthcare organizations are starting to adopt more function-rich, unified platforms instead of siloed systems – technology that solves multiple problems, that is more affordable, and that truly makes a difference to outcomes. As adoption spreads, this will protect and give confidence to front-line health workers who are now bearing the brunt of the pressures that healthcare organizations are facing as they work to maintain services and stretch budgets in the face of rising demand and inflation.

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