Healthcare News & Insights

Mobile technology can help protect hospital workers from violence

Healthcare providers do their best to provide quality care to patients in their hospitals. But their jobs come with certain risks. One risk most people don’t immediately think about, but is a very real possibility, is being attacked by patients or visitors. In this guest post, Rhonda Collins, MSN, RN, CNO of a provider of clinical communication and workflow platforms, offers insight into how emergency communication systems can help keep them safe.


On Feb. 5, 2018, a nurse in Pennsylvania was grabbed, punched and thrown down by a man seeking care in an emergency department (ED). On Jan. 16, 2018, a nurse in Tennessee was bitten and choked by someone trying to enter a trauma unit without authorization. On June 14, 2017, a nurse in a Massachusetts hospital was stabbed repeatedly by a knife-wielding patient. These stories of violence are only three among many that occurred in healthcare environments within nine months. There were many more during that time frame and even more since.

According to a 2016 article in the New England Journal of Medicine, 80% of emergency medical workers experience violence during their careers. Seventy-eight percent of ED physicians in the U.S. reported having been the target of workplace violence in the previous year. Employees in hospitals and other healthcare settings face significant risks of workplace violence. OSHA reports from 2002 to 2013, the rate of serious workplace violence incidents was more than four times greater in health care than in private industry. As the incidence of violence rises, more and more people are taking action to safeguard employees at work.

After the 2017 stabbing of a nurse, Elise Wilson, the Massachusetts Nurses Association proposed “Elise’s Law,” formally known as the Act Requiring Health Care Employers to Develop and Implement Programs to Prevent Workplace Violence (S. 1374).

The proposed bill was passed by the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security on July 19, 2017. Elise’s Law would require healthcare employers to perform an annual safety risk assessment and, based on those findings, develop and implement programs to minimize the danger of workplace violence to employees and patients.

Emergency communication

In addition to implementing prevention strategies, many hospitals have improved their emergency communication systems to help protect patients, visitors and staff members. In the emergency department of one Upstate New York hospital, employees can use a hands-free, wearable communication badge to summon university police and public safety officers during a violent encounter or other emergency.

This method of communication is faster than making a phone call. A peer-reviewed study found that this approach reduced average security response times from 3.2 minutes in the six months before the badges were adopted to 1.02 minutes in the six months after use began.

At a Toronto, Canada, hospital, a similar system reduced the time it takes security officers to reach the scene of an incident from an average of 2 ½ minutes to 59 seconds. That time savings can make all the difference in preventing violence. Besides enabling a badge user to contact security personnel quickly, the device can also alert people outside the hospital and act as a real-time locator if a staff member can’t say where he or she is located.

A mobile “panic button” can also be harnessed to help police pinpoint the exact location in a hospital where a violent incident is occurring. For example, in 2014, an armed intruder threatened nurses at a hospital in Daytona Beach, FL. The panic feature of its clinical communication system was used to broadcast a special beep that alerted other clinicians and hospital security about the rapidly evolving incident and where in the facility it was taking place. When the police arrived, an ED security officer was able to guide them directly to the shooter on the hospital’s second floor.

By shortening response times of safety and security personnel, reliable communication technology can provide a safer work environment for hospital staff, and in some cases, save lives.

Rhonda Collins, MSN, RN, is the CNO of Vocera, a provider of clinical communication and workflow platforms.



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