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Upgrading Video Image Quality For Healthcare Surveillance Applications

Video surveillance is critical to the hospital and healthcare environment. Surveillance challenges include expensive equipment, sensitive documents, pharmaceuticals, food services, retail areas, vast parking lots and structures, and lots of people, all active on a 24-7 basis. Staff, sick patients, visitors, newborns, long-term care patients – some with special needs such as Alzheimer’s – all must be protected. Volatile environments such as emergency rooms can even be prone to gang violence in some areas. A hospital is like a city that never sleeps.

Complicating video surveillance at hospitals are privacy considerations mandated by HIPAA (The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) along with mandates from other authorities having jurisdiction (e.g., JCAHO, otherwise known as “The Joint Commissions”). Video system design and installation require sensitivity to healthcare market regulations. New camera capabilities such as enhanced privacy masking can help. For example, the door to a patient’s room or an outside window can be masked electronically in a camera’s image to ensure patient privacy.

 

Megapixel cameras are a useful tool to increase video surveillance effectiveness while minimizing costs in the hospital and healthcare environment. Higher-resolution cameras such as 1080p HD (high definition) cameras offer a 675 percent resolution increase over analog or standard (VGA) network cameras, and that’s with just slightly over 2 megapixels. Many third- and fourth-generation megapixel solutions offer resolutions beyond 1080p –  3, 5, 8, 10 and 20 megapixel resolutions. More resolution (or pixels) means more information, which translates into greater detailed coverage, increased system functionality and better and more efficient forensic investigations.

 

Megapixel Cameras Offer Mega-Capabilities

The two most useful megapixel camera features to help hospitals improve security are clearer, more detailed images and the ability to monitor large areas without interruption. Only megapixel surveillance cameras meet these demands. Megapixel cameras are available in many configurations and image sizes that offer resolutions beyond what we refer to today as high definition (HD). A single megapixel camera can monitor a wide field-of-view continuously and provide the ability to electronically zoom-in on any area of the image – all while recording the full scene. Megapixel technology allows fewer cameras to be deployed while potentially increasing coverage areas versus conventional camera technologies. For vast open areas, such as parking lots and facility grounds, megapixel cameras are also available in 180-degree and 360-degree panoramic models to provide unmatched coverage capabilities.

 

Many hospital and healthcare applications are perfect for megapixel cameras. Entrance and egress points of a healthcare facility’s grounds and physical structures are important as they are the front line of defense for security professionals. However, internal areas such as emergency rooms, nurseries and areas where controlled substances are stored also require continuous surveillance. With the high volume of pedestrian and vehicular traffic, identity management is a major concern. With megapixel cameras, security personnel can zoom-in on license plates, faces, possibly even ID badges to identify individuals. This level of detail becomes more important in an environment where uniformed staff can be difficult to identify.

 

The layout of the facility and its physical characteristics determine the number of cameras needed to provide adequate coverage, and each facility will differ based on these characteristics. The number of security personnel deployed will also vary depending on staffing requirements for foot patrols to complement electronic patrols via video surveillance. One thing is certain: By deploying megapixel cameras, fewer cameras can be used to cover larger areas. This reduces the number of video displays that security personnel need to watch during “live” shifts. As a result, the manpower required for both manned and unmanned video surveillance operations can be reduced, thus freeing these resources for other important security concerns.

 

Megapixel IP video cameras capture continuous views of large areas. In contrast, a standard-definition pan-tilt-zoom (PTZ) camera deployed to watch a large area might miss something. Typically, PTZ cameras are set on a pre-programmed “tour” sequence that provides various views. The problem is that something could go unseen if the PTZ is pointed in the wrong direction. Operators are also needed to direct a PTZ to zoom in on an incident in real time. In the case of megapixel cameras, every incident in the field of view is captured whether the operator is actively viewing the incident or not. System operators are able to zoom in on archived megapixel video by enlarging sections of an image – something that cannot be done with standard definition IP or analog video because there simply isn’t enough resolution and the image would become pixilated.

 

Also, large format megapixel images with dramatic increases in resolution are ideal for forensic identifications. The ability to cover larger areas with greater detail using fewer cameras dramatically reduces the overall time spent investigating incidents. This reduction of time enables the hospital to conduct more investigations with fewer personnel.

 

System Considerations

About 75 percent of hospitals now have digital video surveillance systems, and the trend is likely to accelerate. Some hospitals have been slow to adopt IP video in general because they already made a significant investment in analog solutions. VGA, or standard resolution IP video, really offered little or no benefit over analog. If the existing network infrastructure could be leveraged, there was still significant conversion expense to move to IP such as encoders or more costly IP cameras along with NVRs (Network Video Recorders) or HVRs (Hybrid Video Recorders) in lieu of existing tape or analog-based DVRs. The return on this investment (ROI) with VGA IP solutions just wasn’t there when you consider that – after all of that expense – there was no increase in image quality. However, using megapixel solutions, the ROI for IP conversions is dramatic.

 

A hospital might choose a “hybrid” system to reap the benefits of an IP-based systems (including megapixel imaging) while preserving a previous investment in analog infrastructure. However, the superior image quality of megapixel video is an important element in the compelling argument for a complete transition to a networked video surveillance platform as resources become available. It’s common following an initial implementation of megapixel technology that the ROI realization prompts a more rapid, full-scale conversion than was perhaps initially plannedAlso, the availability of products on the market that convert existing analog video coax transmission to network IP transmission enables hospitals to leverage existing analog infrastructures so that conversions are more cost-effective.

 

The facility footprint itself creates infrastructure logistics for signal transmission; therefore, leveraging existing network infrastructures with IP megapixel solutions is an advantage. Compression technology has improved related to video images, which mitigates any concerns about bandwidth, and the cost of storage also has decreased. VMS (Video Management System) megapixel integrations have multiplied.

 

In short, megapixel technology is becoming mainstream for healthcare applications.

 

New Uses On the Horizon

Facial recognition and other advanced video analytics have dramatically improved in recent years and continue to gain traction for general surveillance applications. The ability of megapixel cameras to capture tremendous detail provides the data required for advanced analytics such as face recognition, allowing video surveillance systems to automatically identify individuals on “watch lists” that should not gain access. New analytics software solutions are more powerful than ever, and they are benefiting from the increased volume and quality of data made available by megapixel cameras to perform more complex functions. Megapixel video is poised to become even more useful to hospitals and healthcare facilities in the future.


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