In the midst of the current health crisis, healthcare organizations and workers worldwide have faced a number of challenges. Exposure to the disease, lack of critical medical devices and shortage of healthcare professionals are the top three challenges they face, according to research firm Verdict. We can also add to this the ongoing high demand for personal protective equipment (PPE).
“Hospitals have been preparing for surges in hospitalizations for some time, so in a sense, there was a level of preparedness in advance of the current pandemic,” says Paul Baratta, Segment Development Manager, Healthcare, Axis Communications, Inc. “What many weren’t prepared for was the number of patients who were presenting different levels of infection at a time when everyone was just learning about the novel coronavirus on the fly.”
The result? Testing and treatment guidelines have been fluid for several months, which puts incredible strain on hospitals and healthcare professionals to provide quality care in a safe environment.
Meanwhile, the same surges in hospitalizations that caused increased demand on limited staff and resources also threatens workers’ health and safety. Doctors and nurses can’t help if they get sick and have to quarantine. In turn, this can make it very challenging to provide the same level of care to every patient and prevent incidents from occurring or intervening before they do happen.
In what is certainly a unique time in history, traditional healthcare practices may not always suffice. Instead, hospitals are now seeking unique ways to address these challenges, and technology can pave the way toward increasing both patient care and improving security. Network surveillance systems based on sight, sound, and analytics can be a force multiplier to support medical and security personnel in meeting increased patient care demands, protecting vital assets, and mitigating exposure to infection.
Personal care without physically being there
What we’re seeing is the innovative ways network technology is enabling staff to provide personal care without being physically present, which in turn can relieve pressure on hospital systems. Video surveillance and two-way audio, combined with analytics, are helping hospitals do more with limited resources. Video and audio analytics identify motion or specific sounds like coughing, which provides the “trigger” to alert staff to a potential problem. Doctors and nurses can then check video and audio, and even speak with the patient from the nurse’s station to determine if assistance is needed.
“A great example of this,” says Baratta, “is one major hospital in New York had to add 500 new ICU beds to accommodate growing needs due to the pandemic. Each of these is equipped with its own camera and two-way audio, allowing nurses to monitor and communicate with patients safely and remotely. The two-way audio feature in many Axis products enables healthcare providers to listen for audible indicators of breathing difficulties, as well as speak remotely with their patients. That way, rather than having to prep to enter a room simply to check on a patient, medical staff can monitor vital signs and physical condition remotely, and enter only when necessary.”
But this type of monitoring is not new to the current situation; it is a tried and true solution. Nor is it limited to monitoring patients only from a single site. For years, Nemours Children’s Hospital has been monitoring patients from a central tactical logistics center, where paramedics use Axis’ network video cameras to validate patient telemetry alarms to quickly alert clinicians of a problem or dismiss any nuisance alarms. This allows their teams to focus on patients who are most in need of assistance and care.
Given the recent surge in patients around the country, hospitals face increased demand on limited staff and resources, combined with the challenges to procure more of both. Remote monitoring acts as a force multiplier, allowing hospitals to do more with less. In today’s climate, where the risk of person-to-person transmission of the novel coronavirus is high, remote monitoring can help eliminate unnecessary patient contact, minimizing the risk to both healthcare workers and patients.
And with the current circumstances, where PPE can be in short supply, these solutions prevent doctors and nurses from having to waste masks, gloves, and other gear for non-emergency situations, thus stretching PPE supplies. Instead of performing rounds at night and waking patients to check on them, staff can use Axis audio, video, and analytics solutions to monitor and determine whether a patient is having a medical event or needs some sort of assistance.
Additionally, global shortages have made PPE supplies, ventilators, and medications more vulnerable to the risk of theft and diversion. In addition to preserving these supplies by limiting the need for their use, Axis video and access control solutions help healthcare providers and public officials secure their assets by limiting access to restricted areas and providing video and event logs of all authorized and unauthorized access attempts.
In addition to helping healthcare professionals provide high levels of patient care with fewer resources while reducing the risk of infection, video, audio, and analytics can also help keep patients and staff safe and secure.
When the first wave of COVID-19 cases hit, many hospitals were forced to enter lockdown to limit access to only those who needed immediate medical attention. Because of their dual focus on security and providing a welcoming and friendly environment, hospitals are normally very much open campuses with many entrances. So reducing the number of entrances to one or two posed a real security challenge. While some hospitals had electronic locks on some or all of their doors, many had to manually lock doors. Additionally, the use of pop-up tents for testing also posed an access challenge. One of the biggest fears was that someone with a medical emergency would not be able to enter the hospital to receive treatment.
Baratta noted that video, audio, and analytics technology has helped ease these burdens for many hospitals.
“In some cases,” Baratta says, “they were able to use their existing security devices, such as parking lot security cameras, while adding audio and access control in the form of an Axis network door station, such as AXIS A8004-VE Network Video Door Station. Together, these provide both eyes and ears at entrances.”
How does this work? When someone arrives at a door, he or she presses a button on the door station to alert security personnel. A recorded audio message could then play to tell them the entrance is locked and to proceed to the main entrance for admittance. In the case where the individual is experiencing a medical emergency and needs immediate assistance, security staff can also speak to the person and direct medical staff to their location. Additionally, onboard video analytics such as cross-line detection allow the door station to generate an alert in the security center as someone approaches the door or if the door is propped open, further increasing security at the hospital.
Maintaining staff health and safety
One of the greatest contributing factors to patient health and safety is protecting the physical and mental safety of all healthcare employees. Research has shown that around 75 percent of the 25,000 workplace violence incidents that take place in the U.S. each year occur in healthcare settings, according to the American Journal of Managed Care. These may be patient-on-staff, visitor-on-staff, staff-on-staff, or any combination thereof.
Increased demands and fears from COVID-19 have only raised the stakes, with tensions running at an all-time high among healthcare workers who already face a disproportionate risk of workplace violence.
“Preventing workplace violence takes a combination of people, processes, and technology,” says Baratta. “Training, education, protocols, and systems go a long way toward heading off potential problems, with video, audio, and analytics rounding out the solution. Surveillance cameras can deter violence, send an alert when an incident is occurring and provide evidence of the event.”
Cameras equipped with analytics allow for solutions like audio detection that can send an alert when noises such as breaking glass, aggression, or gunshots are detected. This enables security personnel to respond quickly to an incident. Two-way audio can allow them to speak directly to the individual or individuals involved, potentially de-escalating the situation and ensuring the safety of staff.
Protecting patients and personnel is obviously critical – physicians can’t heal others if they themselves aren’t well. The safety of the workplace serves as a prerequisite for patient safety. This includes both physical and mental safety of all healthcare employees
Solutions for today – and beyond the pandemic
As hospitals throughout the country face new and evolving challenges as a result of the current health crisis, the demand on staff and resources continues to stress healthcare systems worldwide. By adopting and using new technologies based on sight, sound, and analytics, such as those provided by Axis Communications, hospitals are able to mitigate some of this stress by reducing staff exposure to infection, protecting vital assets, maintaining a safe and secure environment and, most importantly, improving patient care and satisfaction.