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​​Addressing workplace violence in hospitals with AI | Viewpoint


AI has emerged as the most comprehensive safety option available and as a solution offering the shortest implementation timeframe.

The unfortunate reality is that medical workers–particularly nurses–are exposed so frequently to workplace violence that they often stop reporting it and accept these traumatic occurrences as part and parcel of working in healthcare.

Image credit: ©Drazen - stock.adobe.com

By embracing AI-driven solutions with robust software, hospitals can proactively address workplace violence, Adrian Jennings writes.

Workplace violence has become so commonplace in healthcare settings that this sector experiences more non-fatal workplace violence than any other profession, including law enforcement.

Seeing the negative effects of this violence, medical facilities and hospitals are taking a deeper look at the impact on staff, how to prevent this behavior from happening—and most importantly—how to keep their employees safe.

Consequences of workplace violence

Research shows that constant exposure to workplace violence puts victims at a greater risk of developing debilitating mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression and burnout. Likewise, when nurses experience workplace violence, there is a correlated decrease in productivity and an increase in employee turnover.

Similarly, hospitals may face penalties as more states require employers to implement workplace violence prevention programs. Regulators like the U.S. Labor Department's Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) can fine hospitals, medical centers and healthcare practices for failing to take necessary steps to safeguard their staff from exposure to workplace violence.

The inadequacy of current staff duress solutions

Legacy safety and duress systems–whether stationary panic buttons or part of a real-time location systems (RTLS) platform–suffer from three main issues: coverage area, escalation potential and location accuracy.

Stationary buttons are insufficient for several reasons. Often, the buttons are placed at the head of a patient's bed, making it difficult for a nurse to reach them if a patient becomes verbally or physically abusive.

In addition, moving to press the button can escalate a situation or cause other patients to become agitated (which is the exact opposite of what a duress solution is intended to do). Finally, because of the fixed position of the button, it only provides coverage in certain areas and lets responders know where the situation begins, not where it goes.

Some hospitals use RTLS-enabled staff duress solutions. These solutions track incidents more comprehensively because they are usually a wearable badge that moves with the employee. They also suffer from a trade-off between location accuracy and expense.

More accurate solutions are expensive to install across a hospital and require hospital rooms to be out of commission for long periods. Lower-cost systems that are easier to install are less reliable and less accurate, which can negate the benefit of the system entirely. A 10-foot accuracy might sound acceptable, but it’s also the difference between identifying an issue on the fifth floor when it’s really on the fourth.

In both cases, almost all current solutions providers only cover inside the hospital, leaving parking garages and walkways unmonitored.

How AI addresses the problems of legacy technology

Next-generation staff duress solutions are AI-native, with AI built into the original product architecture to overcome the shortcomings of legacy offerings. What is unique about the application of AI in this setting is that it completely erases the trade-off between accuracy and cost.

With AI-driven location, hospitals have a high accuracy system that is easy to install at a price point that can cover the entire campus. Similar to how image-recognition algorithms are trained to recognize specific images, AI systems housed in the cloud use machine learning algorithms to identify the unique signatures of rooms and other spaces like walkways or stairwells.

Best-in-class solutions use a dedicated network designed to create a low-latency connection to the AI models that avoids bottlenecks on the hospital WiFi network.

Software matters

In addition to the wearable alerting solution, a staff duress solution should include incident management software that provides customizable response workflows to coordinate with responders in real time, keep them updated with developments and integrate with existing security and communication systems.

The software should also offer forensic reporting with historical event insights, enabling hospitals to continuously improve response times and process efficiency while strengthening compliance efforts with regulatory agency standards.

Hospitals are focusing on what they can control

There are many theories as to why workplace violence has become so prevalent. Still, it isn’t clear if there is one specific thing hospitals can do to prevent the behavior from happening. What is clear is the need for hospital leaders to implement a reliable, comprehensive, and cost-effective workplace violence plan.

While the factors triggering violence may be beyond their control, the choice of technology to protect staff during such incidents lies within their purview. AI has emerged as the most comprehensive safety option available and as a solution offering the shortest implementation timeframe.

More importantly, it provides a quicker response to supporting staff when they need it the most. By embracing AI-driven solutions with robust software, hospitals can proactively address workplace violence, enhance staff safety, and fortify their commitment to a secure and supportive work environment.

Adrian Jennings is the chief product officer of Cognosos.

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