Wearable devices in healthcare: What’s the role of body worn solutions?

Wearable technology has been prominently part of public safety for years, and its usage has only continued to grow within this market. Most recently, the usage of body worn, or wearable devices, have grown in the healthcare market as well, particularly in the traditional security sense with security officers who wear them while on duty. Interestingly, other use cases are now coming forward on the clinical side of healthcare.

Use cases for wearable devices in healthcare

Workplace violence continues to be a major issue in the healthcare segment. Both physical and verbal abuse rose to the point that The Joint Commission joined the American Nurses and the American Hospital Association to develop Workplace Violence Prevention Resource 1 with the Occupational Health Professionals in Healthcare Conference. The Joint Commission now requires relevant standards in reporting sentinel events and prevention of workplace violence. One solution that has been employed in hospitals, by both security and clinical staff, is the use of body worn solutions. The use of wearable solutions provides for documenting events and situations. As a result, more and more hospitals are equipping staff with wearable technology and audio solutions in the US and abroad.

Wearable solutions have shown they can decrease violent events in healthcare facilities. For example, a recent study by the National Health Services of Great Britain showed a reduction of violence on nurses, other clinical staff, and users. It’s also shown staff moderating their response to patients. Hospitals in the United Kingdom have seen a reduction in workplace violence by 28 percent due to implementing wearable video solutions.

Police are now bringing more people to emergency rooms to be evaluated for mental health reasons, and hospital security directors and clinical staff are reporting more incidents of behavioral events and an increase in physical and medical restraints. By adding wearable devices, staff have reported a decrease in events, restraints, and other intervention due to both security and clinical staff announcing they are recording the event. By warning the patient or visitor they’re being recorded it reduces the incidences of violence and provides for documentation in case of the need for prosecution.

Other use cases for wearable devices in healthcare include documenting the movement of patients from hospital beds to specialized departments, such as for an X-Ray, and in behavioral health wards to document staff interaction with patients and their guests. Clinical staff can use these devices to document surgeries, provide for training purposes, and in simulation rooms with residents.

These are just few examples of use cases for wearable devices in healthcare settings, but what they show is there clearly is a need for them in this market.

Privacy issues

One common theme I’m seeing regarding wearable devices in healthcare is around patient and visitor privacy. Body worn cameras seem to be a concern regarding the expectation of privacy of patients, staff, and visitors given the legal and regulatory circumstances that a healthcare environment requires.

Several decades ago, a set of standards were put into place to protect certain healthcare information: This law is called HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act). However, under Law Enforcement Purposes of the Act, organizations can disclose health information if required by law, under court order, warrant or subpoena to identify or locate a suspect, fugitive, witness, or missing person.

In response to law enforcement, officials will request information about a victim or suspected victim of a crime to alert law enforcement of someone’s death. Hospitals are required by federal and local laws to inform law enforcement of a stabbing, shooting and other serious crimes, the location of the victims, and perpetrator of a crime if they have this information.

Herein lies the problem: Currently, there’s no rule, law or requirement under HIPAA that states it’s completely unacceptable for healthcare providers or third parties to use body cameras in hospitals for security due to privacy concerns.

People, process and technology

Before integrating wearable devices into your current security strategy, you need to put a plan into place.

First, determine who will deploy the body worn solution. Are you going to equip security, clinical staff, and ancillary service staff?

Next, and most importantly, how are you going to deploy the new equipment? What are the policies and procedures you want to create for the use and storage of images and events? What are the guidelines you’ll create and if any maintenance is required on the devices?

Finally, when you decide to move towards wearable solutions, what is the goal? What technology do you want to use? Will you store the images and events on your local VMS or in the cloud? Do you need to transfer the images and recording to an evidence storage system or will you keep them on a local device? Any time you decide to move to a technology it is imperative that you ask these questions and set in place clear polices and guidelines on its use.

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