Using Technology to Enhance Nurse Safety

Healthcare has seen an increase in violence, from assaults on staff, to issues of domestic violence between family members that carry over into the hospital. Unfortunately, violence is everywhere. All organizations, no matter how big or small, are challenged to provide the utmost protection for their employees. At Community Hospital, through both educational programs and putting tools in place to provide the protection and support they need, we’re committed to making sure our staff feels safe coming to work every day.

Our violence prevention efforts are a collaboration between all entities within the organization. From the security department to patient care services, all the way to the CEO’s office, we are all involved in doing what is necessary to keep patients and staff safe.

It starts with education, using a combination of instructional and practical teaching techniques. From mandatory online training on violence prevention techniques, to active shooter and combative patient drills, we ensure our staff knows how to react appropriately in various situations. This education occurs quarterly and culminates with a yearly safety review.

There is nothing better than giving staff the knowledge to keep themselves safe and creating awareness around how to avoid volatile situations. When staff finds themselves in a compromising position, having the tools to enhance their safety creates a comfort level for them.

Wearable Tech

Our Staff Assist system is one of the tools we use to increase safety. As part of an integration to our nurse call system, nurses wear real-time locating system (RTLS) badges. In the Emergency Department, all staff wears these badges, which are equipped with a call button. If a staff member is in a situation where they need immediate attention, they can hit that button and it alerts the whole unit that they need assistance. Security officers, once they hear the alarm, glance at a map of the Emergency Department, where the exact location of the staff member needing help is highlighted.

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This Staff Assist tool is one way for us to be able to give staff a sense of safety – to know that immediate attention is just a button-push away. Additionally, the same technology that powers the badge and panic button can be used for other performance improvement initiatives to help improve our processes, ultimately enhancing staff and patient safety as well as patient satisfaction.

The locating badges are integrated to the nurse call system, so calls are automatically cancelled as the person wearing the badge enters the room. Rather than having to manually press a button, the healthcare provider can immediately focus on patient care.

Improving Staff Ratios

Further, the response times to answer patient calls are automatically documented, and through the reporting available in the nurse call system, we can validate the care we provide for the benefit of both patients and staff. For example, the location data provided through the nurse call system will be invaluable as we get ready to embark on a study of nurse time at the bedside. We will be able to tell how long nurses are on their feet providing direct patient care on any given shift, and compare that across units. The data will help us in our acuity-based staffing initiatives to better distribute patient assignments.

Recently, this technology helped us successfully deal with the first U.S. case of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). Because our ED staff wears these RTLS badges, we were able to pull a quick report from the nurse call system to determine everyone who had been in the contagious patient’s room and for how long. This gave us the knowledge to confidently report to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), our staff and the public that we knew exactly who was, and who was not, exposed.

This technology, along with our educational efforts and other performance improvement initiatives, make it possible for our staff to focus on providing the best patient care possible. Today, six years after implementing our safety and performance goals, we are meeting and exceeding standard performance benchmarks; and our patient satisfaction scores are above our goal.

Patient Satisfaction

We also cannot discount patient satisfaction as a large component to a hospital’s safety and violence prevention plan. Over the last several years, the media has brought attention to the issue of violence in hospitals, so when patients choose a hospital, people are more informed. They seek facilities that provide a safe environment and the best care at the highest quality – and safety is a quality measure. In fact, on every HCAHPS survey, patients around the nation reply to the question, “How safe and secure did you feel while you were in the hospital?”

Our nurses take great pride in keeping our patients safe, keeping them comfortable, and keeping them well taken care of on every level. The systems we have in place provide the tools our nurses and support staff need to provide high quality care to our patients.

If a hospital is not addressing the issue of violence prevention, they are missing an opportunity to provide an important, higher level of service to their patients and staff.

Ronda McKay is chief nursing officer and vice president of patient care services at Community Hospital, Munster, Ind.

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