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Three Imperatives for a Tech-Driven Staff Safety Solution

Tech-driven staff safety solutions are critical to a holistic strategy.

In an industry powered by a workforce who spend their lives delivering intimate and compassionate care, it’s astonishing that those same caregivers face workplace violence rates higher than any other industry. In fact, according to Press Ganey’s latest data, in the second quarter of 2022 alone, 57 nurses were assaulted daily — that’s two assaults every hour.

This staggering workplace violence incidence reflects the steady and drastic 60% increase in healthcare violence events since 2011, with risk factors including the intense emotional state of patients and their families, staffing shortages, environmental factors, lack of preventive support or training, and general absence of supportive technology all contributing to the growing epidemic.

How can we expect clinicians and staff to care for and comfort patients and their loved ones every day, when they are putting their own health and safety — both mental and physical — at risk in doing so? Beyond the human impact, keeping staff safe is fundamental to the business of healthcare, contributing significantly to staffing issues, health system financial strain, patient satisfaction, and ultimately patient outcomes. In fact, perceived safety of the work environment is the number one factor impacting nurses’ decision to stay or leave their current role today — at a time when The Great Resignation further pushes our healthcare system to the brink.

As leaders, our first priority is to keep our patients and team members safe.  So combating workplace violence must be a top priority for every health system leader across the country. Given the complex nature of this epidemic, addressing this significant challenge head-on is no easy feat. It requires a multifactorial approach that includes a collaborative, community-driven strategy along with effective technological support.

Here are the three imperatives for an effective, tech-enabled safety strategy for healthcare organizations:

1. Prioritize prevention and de-escalation

Many staff and clinicians today go to work believing that at some point, violence is inevitable. Preventing workplace violence requires intervening long before it escalates, rather than responding in the moment. In a recent McKinsey survey, 62% of nurses say “active monitoring of nurse distress and proactive outreach” is an important initiative needed in the workplace to support their well-being.

Employing security officers and implementing video surveillance are obvious aspects of health system safety employed by nearly all health systems — but taking these measures alone cannot preempt violence. To complement a holistic security strategy, new technology is required to enable early intervention and conflict de-escalation. Effective staff protection requires technology that enables early intervention and de-escalation support triggered via discrete, individually assigned wearable badges that empower any worker to instantly call for help to their real-time location. Just as with masks and gowns, this device should be a core component of their personal protection equipment.

Operationally, staff should be encouraged to use the badge “early and often” at the first signs of distress to maximize the known benefits of de-escalation. When pressed, the solution must instantly notify key stakeholders — including proximate colleagues, subscribed staff, and security personnel — so that nearby team members can intervene immediately with de-escalation support. Because violent situations often move over time, the system must be able to monitor the situation in real time as it evolves, from the first sign of duress all the way through incident resolution.

2. Cover all staff in any facility

Many health system leaders incorrectly believe that workplace violence is limited to the Emergency Department and Behavioral Health. However, workplace violence doesn’t discriminate — anyone in any department can be at risk. All healthcare workers deserve to feel safe, no matter their role or title, yet 92% of healthcare workers experienced or witnessed workplace violence just this past April alone. In Press Ganey’s latest data, surprisingly, pediatric units experienced some of the highest rates of assaults.

Healthcare is a team sport. Everyone — from administrators and environmental services to clinicians and cross-departmental staff members — contributes to the patient experience and, ultimately, care outcomes. Just as patient safety couldn’t be maximized without supportive technology (e.g., bar code administration, drug-drug interaction testing, e-ICU, etc.), preventing workplace violence similarly requires technology support. Health systems require a tech-enabled strategy that covers all care environments –– and all staff –– to provide comprehensive protection and support.

3. Track and report critical data to boost prevention measures

Even with staggering reports like Press Ganey’s, our picture of workplace violence in healthcare — and its impact — is incomplete: Only 30% of workplace violence incidents are actually reported. Understanding where threats occur and which staff members consistently feel unsafe is crucial for mitigating violence in the workplace for the long term, and it’s a new Joint Commission regulatory standard. To capture those learnings, an optimal staff safety solution must include a robust dispatch dashboard that’s updated in real time with reporting capabilities to understand trends and insights for a future-proofed approach to safety.

Safety shouldn’t come with sacrifice — healthcare organizations must be empowered by their workplace safety solutions with comprehensive and always-on service, support, and reporting. With real-time data such as duress alarm and location tracking, healthcare leaders can more accurately and proactively protect the entire organization.

Bonus: Deploy other proven best practices

In addition to implementing these three key strategies, healthcare organizations should consider adopting other proven best practices. These include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Community-based crisis stabilization centers for 24x7x365 behavioral care
  • Appropriate facility design and visualization to avoid “blind alleys”
  • Secured and/or weighted furniture in high-risk areas
  • Safe Assessment rooms in the emergency department
  • Flagging patient records who have a history of workplace violence
  • Training all patient-facing staff in trauma-informed care and de-escalation techniques
  • Creating a Behavioral Emergency Response Team
  • Performing a post-incident debrief to determine a root cause analysis

With the introduction of legislation like The Safety From Violence for Healthcare Employees Act, stakeholders are beginning to recognize our epidemic, but there is still much to do. By establishing comprehensive safety strategies supported by effective technology, health organizations can operate as a united front to combat workplace violence and restore “care” into the healthcare environment for all clinicians, staff, and caregivers. Through actions both big and small, we can enact meaningful change in preventing workplace violence.

If you’re ready to take action against workplace violence, join our upcoming webinar on Wednesday, September 28 at 11am PT / 2pm ET:

Ronald A. Paulus, MD

Ronald A. Paulus, MD

Former CEO, Mission Health Former CAO & Chief Innovation Officer, Geisinger Health

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© 2011 Thomas G. Murphy, MD. JAMA, June 20, 2012—Vol 307, No. 23

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