Healthcare Providers: Managing Workplace Violence and Patient Visitors Go Hand-in-Hand

Workplace violence is on the rise in the U.S., with hospital employees being common targets of assault and other attacks. These incidents often come from patients, but many are perpetrated by patient families and visitors. Managing these visitors to hospitals and other medical facilities can go a long way towards preventing workplace violence. In this article, we’ll explore the impact to healthcare employees, the best ways to monitor and control visitors, and how to improve safety for hospital employees, patients, visitors and others.

Defining Workplace Violence

When it comes to understanding workplace violence, it’s useful to use the definition from the Society for Human Resource Management:

“It’s any act or threat of physical violence, harassment, intimidation, other threatening, disruptive behavior that occurs at a work site. It ranges from threats and verbal abuse to physical assaults and even homicide.”

The Rise of Workplace Violence

There is an upward trend of violence in the workplace:

  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration estimates that more than two million people are impacted by workplace violence every year.
  • In 2017, more than 18,000 people suffered injuries from workplace violence, and 800 people died.
  • One-quarter of HR professionals said that their organization had suffered a workplace violence incident in the last year.
  • Nearly one in seven employees report feeling unsafe at work.
  • The U.S. Department of Labor reports that four times the number of serious workplace violence incidents requiring time off for recuperation occurred in healthcare than in private industry. In addition, healthcare incidents account for nearly as many serious, violent injuries as all other industries combined.
  • According to one study, two-thirds of workplace violence against healthcare employees was caused by patients, their families or other visitors, while the remaining one-third was caused by other employees.

Factors that Increase the Risk of Workplace Violence for Healthcare Workers

There are several important reasons that healthcare workers face a greater risk of violence:

  • Working directly with people who may have a history of violence
  • Public accessibility to hospitals
  • Providing treatment to patients who may have drug misuse problems and
  • Highly emotional and stressful workplaces involving life-or-death situations

According to the FBI, there are four main types of workplace violence:

  • Type 1: Violence perpetrated by criminals who have no connection with the workplace (e.g., thieves)
  • Type 2: Violence perpetrated by those whom an organization serves (e.g., patients, families, visitors)
  • Type 3: Violence perpetrated against coworkers, supervisors, or managers by a present or former employee
  • Type 4: Violence perpetrated by someone who has a personal relationship with an employee (e.g., an abusive spouse)

“Type 2 violence is the most common cause of physical violence in the healthcare setting, and type 3 violence is the most prevalent type of healthcare workplace violence.” — ECRI Institute.

Protecting Healthcare Employees and Preventing Hospital Workplace Violence

Nine states have adopted workplace violence laws to protect healthcare workers, and a federal bill has also been proposed. These laws are a good starting point, but there is plenty that hospitals and other healthcare facilities can do to protect their workers. For example, facilities should:

  • Create and implement workplace safety and emergency preparedness plans.
  • Put rigorous policies and processes in place.
  • Analyze data to identify common causes of workplace violence.
  • Train employees to recognize and de-escalate problematic situations.
  • Emphasize the importance of personal safety and reducing risk.
  • Implement hospital visitor management systems.

Using Technology to Protect Healthcare Employees

A holistic violence reduction plan will work across multiple areas to reduce risk factors, but one of the most important action steps is monitoring and controling public entrances, including the introduction of a strong hospital visitor management system. In addition, a good hospital visitor management system should provide plenty of options to balance ease-of-access with employee safety. To establish this system, facilities should:

Require All Visitors and Patients to Register and Provide Information
When they first arrive at the hospital, patients and visitors should register and provide important information like their name and contact details. By using guided questions during registration, you can identify potentially problematic visitors and begin mitigating actions, such as providing an escort.

Put Policies in Place for Personal Information
Collecting personal information from visitors allows for faster follow up should there be an incident, both with the perpetrator and OSHA. If the visitor has been disruptive, access for future visits should be restricted or denied. It’s important to have the capability to add individuals to a watchlist—either proactively or after suspicious or violent behavior. By simply collecting visitor information, the chance of violence is decreased as each visitor is aware their information is on file, and that they can be held accountable if they cause problems.

Allow for Easier Access Once Visitors Have Already Registered and Checked In
Once they are in the hospital visitor management software, future visits should be more frictionless via the use of a kiosk or badge system.

Set Granular Visitation Policies
Protecting access to areas or patients can be very helpful. Granular visitation policies can be set by patients themselves or by healthcare employees and managers in line with possible risk factors. A visitor’s access can be automatically provisioned based on their relationship with the patient.

Create Watch, Inclusion and Exception Lists
For particularly problematic areas, you can introduce watchlists that include or exclude certain individuals. This can notify security when anyone on a watchlist registers, so you can offer a proactive response.

Exclude Terminated Employees From Returning to Work
You can link visitor management with the hospital’s HR system to prevent terminated staff from returning to the facility. When the employee is no longer in their role, their access credentials can be deactivated automatically.

Benefits of an Effective Visitor Management System

Some of the benefits of a properly integrated hospital visitor management system include:

  • Patient visitors are processed quickly and accurately using simple workflows.
  • Front desk efficiency improves through offloading visitor preregistration to patients and their immediate relatives.
  • Security is enhanced through automated verification, screening and badging of visitors.

You can protect your healthcare employees, patients, and visitors through HID SAFE for Healthcare. Find out more about how we can help to secure your workplace and prevent violence.

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Janette Andler is Director of Vertical Market Development in IAM Solutions. In this role, she works with healthcare organizations across North America to help solve their physical identity and access management challenges. Based in Dallas, Janette has been a member of the security industry for over 12 years.