New high-tech system boosts hospital safety
Published Sunday, April 12, 2009 9:25PM EDT
As more and more violent incidents are reported by Canada's healthcare providers, one Toronto hospital has gone with a high-tech device to protect workers.
Taking a cue from Star Trek, Toronto East General Hospital has introduced a wireless communication device called the Vocera communicator. It allows workers to communicate to the hospital's security department by simply double-tapping the device.
Security can then hear an incident as it is occurring. With 220 cameras built into the hospital, security staff can usually also see exactly what's going on.
"There's a lot of unknowns in emergencies... you never know who is going to walk in and what their circumstances are," Carmine Stumpo, the director of pharmaceutical services at Toronto East General told CTV News.
The hospital says that the security department used to get to the scene of a "Code White" -- what a violent incident at a hospital is called -- in an average of two-and-a-half minutes.
Thanks to the pocket-sized Vocera communicator, that response time has been reduced to 59 seconds, said Rob Devitt, president of Toronto East General.
Nurse Christa Longdon used the new system to contact security when a colleague was attacked by a patient. She said she feels "much safer" at work.
"Situations are unpredictable and you never know if an incident is going to happen," Longdon said. "So you need to be prepared and I think this device allows us to be prepared for the unpredictable."
In addition to letting a user contact security personnel, the device can call people outside the hospital and act as a GPS even if the user can't say where he or she is located.
The issue of hospital safety is a growing concern as reports of violence are on the rise.
Official statistics are scheduled to be released this week on the number of nurses who have been victims of physical or verbal abuse.
"Violence against healthcare workers has been a sort of an unspoken issue for many, many years," Devitt said, adding that such incidents are a major cause of workplace injury.
Stumpo estimated that more than 1,000 incidents occurred at the hospital over the course of one year, many of them at the facility's emergency department.
"(Emergency) can be a very stressful place. It's where patients come in at their worst," Stumpo said. "They're obviously suffering and understandably so. It can be a point at which we have a high level of anxiety and a high level of illness."
Despite the hospital's long history of violent incidents, Devitt said, it did not have a strong, co-ordinated system to respond.
So staff and the union devised a new, zero-tolerance policy.
In addition to the Vocera system, the new policy includes training staff on how to defuse threatening situations, self-defence and communication, as well as improvements to the hospital's layout.
At least 25 hospitals have toured Toronto East General to watch the high-tech response system at work and to decide if they, too, should add it to their security systems.
With a report from CTV medical correspondent Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip