Hospitals rethink surveillance to improve operational efficiency
The national spotlight currently on our healthcare system is a constant reminder of the vital service it provides to individuals and communities. Even before the appearance of COVID-19, hospitals and healthcare facilities were dealing with complex and changing environments to improve safety, care and operational efficiency to benefit us all.
Now, as we adapt to the challenges of our physically distanced lives, hospitals are looking for new ways to address their evolving needs. Facing budgetary restraints and global uncertainty, however, most do not want to turn to unproven technologies or deploy entirely new systems. Instead, many are using their existing physical security systems to generate operational benefits in addition to surveillance coverage.
Balancing safety and efficiency
At the core of improving safety and operational efficiency, as well as mitigating the risks of COVID-19, is understanding and managing the flow of people. This can be difficult given the design of the spaces themselves. Hospitals are intended to be welcoming environments that provide easy and clear access to medical staff, patients and visitors.
Just consider the open lobby of your local hospital. Unless you need assistance, you are usually free to walk in and direct yourself to where you want to go. This design makes people feel more comfortable in what could be a stressful situation. But it can also lead to potential safety risks for hospital staff and administration in terms of workplace violence and theft, two critical issues facing healthcare today.
For many hospitals, deploying a video surveillance system is the best way to promote accessibility while maintaining a safe and secure environment. The average 800-bed hospital has somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 cameras monitoring everything from lobbies and parking lots to dispensaries and restricted areas.
But having cameras is just part of the story. How you monitor those cameras is also important. With so many feeds, putting a security person in front of a video wall is impossible since an individual is only able to monitor 10 to 20 cameras at a time. Increasingly, hospitals are using video analytics to help manage their cameras and be proactive—rather than reactive—in their responses.
Hospitals are using video analytics to help protect staff and patients. With video analytics, a video surveillance system can compare video images to existing electronic watchlists that include anyone who has previously attacked a healthcare provider, for example. If a person on a watchlist approaches the front door, the system automatically notifies security personnel.
This type of intelligent monitoring can also help a hospital reduce shrinkage, especially when caused by theft. This can include everything from machines to tubing and wheelchairs. It is not uncommon for major hospitals to lose five to 15 wheelchairs a day.
Whether it’s disgruntled former employees or criminals hoping to make a profit selling to the black market, medical facilities are vulnerable to all types of theft. In the past, the best they could do was reactively repurchase equipment because they couldn’t track what they were losing.
“Many hospitals are using their existing physical security systems to generate operational benefits in addition to surveillance coverage”
Real Time Location Systems (RTLS) can help track equipment, but they only provide the location of the device. They cannot identify the person who took it. When RTLS is integrated with video analytics, a hospital can build an electronic watchlist that will help them prevent future theft.
It’s not just medical equipment that hospitals must protect. Pharmaceutical theft is also a major concern. Monitoring access to controlled substances is crucial. To do this, hospital pharmacies and Pyxis mobile pharmacy stations have multiple cameras monitoring everything from who is in the space to what they’re doing. When those cameras are integrated with video analytics, the system can be programmed to send an alarm to security personnel when it detects the presence of unauthorized persons or people on a watchlist.
Adapting to COVID-19
But what about COVID-19? How can hospitals keep everyone safe from infection while still treating people? One key method is requiring everyone in a facility to wear a mask. Discovering that someone is not in compliance after they’re already in a facility is too late. Hospitals can use video analytics to determine if an individual is wearing a mask before they reach the front door. If a system detects a face without a mask, it automatically notifies security personnel.
Occupancy management is another important factor in reducing the risk of spreading the virus. Ensuring that everyone in the facility has enough space to maintain a safe, physical distance means hospitals must know how many people are in a building. Using video analytics allows hospitals to determine how many people are within specific areas, including different departments, lobbies, cafeterias and hallways. Once a pre-set threshold is reached in one of these areas, the system can automatically notify security personnel who can respond by limiting access temporarily.
Another specific COVID-related application is the use of non-recording cameras and two-way audio for patient monitoring. Allowing hospital staff to interact with patients who are in quarantine via cameras and microphones means they can perform light diagnosis or check-ins without risking exposure to the virus. In this case, it is essential that the cameras in patient rooms are non-recording Otherwise, an institution could potentially be in violation of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
This pandemic has shown the world the importance of frontline hospital staff. Protecting them and their facilities is important for us all. Fortunately, hospitals can use their existing video surveillance systems to not only address workplace violence and asset-shrinkage, but to also help meet the evolving healthcare requirements that are intended to keep us all safe.
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