Five ways internal comms can help reduce violence in hospitals

Healthcare workers are at increased risk of workplace violence. A recent WHO report shows that between 8% and 38% of healthcare workers suffer physical violence at some point in their careers.

However, the risk isn’t just physical. Threats, verbal abuse, harassment and similar aggressive behavior can cause psychological trauma and stress, as well as escalate to physical violence.

Sadly, the threat of workplace violence appears disproportionately high in the healthcare industry.

In the US, healthcare makes up just 9% of the total workforce, but experiences nearly as many violent injuries as all other industries combined. Incidents of serious workplace violence are four times more common in healthcare than in private industry.

The situation is no rosier in the UK. Healthcare professionals generally have a higher than average risk of workplace violence – an alarming statistic which has remained consistent over the last few years.

But there is hope. Effective internal communication can help minimize the risk to staff safety, as well as create an environment where a safety culture can be fostered. Here are five suggestions that could suit your workplace.

1. Flagging system to update status

One of the most important times in a hospital is the beginning of a new shift. Handover between incoming and outgoing staff may be a hurried affair, particularly if the departing employee is tired and anxious to be on their way. Important information may get missed.

Try introducing a flagging system to inform staff of the day’s schedule, alert them to any disruptive patients, or pass on security notifications.

Comms tools like a scrolling newsfeed-style ticker (add url?) are well-suited for conveying important information and identifying issues for staff to be aware of, while maintaining patient confidentiality.

2. Alert when action need be taken

An active shooter on site, an aggressive patient or an extreme weather event. Sometimes an incident suddenly escalates and it’s necessary to immediately alert all staff of the danger.

But alarm systems that rely on using a telephone, whistles or screams are ineffective and dangerous. Silent alerts, which notify staff and can summon security, without disturbing patients, are a much better solution.

Emergency alerts can be triggered fast and delivered to all staff computer screens immediately. These alerts bypass email and instantly grab attention. Make sure they can also be triggered from remote areas such as nurses’ stations and registration areas.

3. Upskill to know how to react

Success is often judged not by avoiding negative events, but rather by the response taken when these events occur. Knowing the right actions to take in a threatening situation can be the difference between inflaming or defusing risk.

Training sessions and simulated events should cover areas such as de-escalation and procedures to follow for informing law enforcement. Refresher courses should be held regularly to remind staff and educate new team members. Include a summary of key steps in briefing packs for contract staff.

However, training sessions are only as useful as their attendance. Promote them prominently on computer wallpapers, screensavers and your intranet. Get staff enthusiastic about how this will benefit them, even when they’re busy. Time is precious on the wards, but life and safety are even more so.

4. Reach staff without computers

In the busy environments of hospitals or other healthcare clinics, many staff will be working on wards and dealing with patients – they will rarely be in front of a computer.

While briefings at the beginning of shifts can highlight the most pressing issues staff need be aware of, it’s worthwhile reinforcing more general safety messages during the shift.

Adapt your computer wallpaper design or intranet articles into printed flyers to post in common areas and staff rooms. These can be effective in both reminding and assuring staff of things like your workplace violence policy or an awareness campaign.

5. Involve your team

Safety and security don’t happen in isolation. The whole team benefits from everyone being involved, whether that be contributing suggestions or alerting colleagues to risks they’ve noticed.

Collaborating is an excellent way of soliciting tips from staff, though it tends to be more effective in a formal structure so that insights aren’t lost amidst a flood of messages. A moderated forum on your organization’s intranet or a custom survey are good options.

Once set up, managers can then ask questions of staff to gather useful information. For example, identifying the times of day when the threat of violence is greatest, and scheduling staff volumes accordingly.

Addressing violence in hospitals and other healthcare institutions is essential. When the health and safety of workers are threatened, this can lead to decreased productivity and quality of care, plus increased fatigue and turnover.

Changes to environment, administration and behavior will be necessary to foster a safety culture – changes which effective internal communications can support.

About the author: Michael Hartland works in marketing at SnapComms, a leading provider of digital internal communication solutions.

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