Gartner Research

What to Do When a Medical Emergency Occurs in a Virtual Meeting

Published: 21 July 2021

Summary

A medical emergency in a virtual meeting is a frightening experience for all — the sense of helplessness is profound. It is one that few organizations have thought about. SRM leaders should use Gartner’s procedures to equip employees in supporting colleagues, minimizing risks and saving lives.

Overview

Key Findings
  • In the event of a person requiring medical assistance during a virtual meeting, the other participants may have no way of knowing how to contact public emergency services due to lack of access to that individual’s address, physical location, family contacts, etc.

  • Participants in virtual meetings may not want to have their location and contact information disclosed to others in the meeting.

  • Meeting participants’ first reaction to call 911 or other public emergency service is useless if you don’t know the location of the meeting participant in distress.

  • Organizations don’t have an internal procedure for handling medical emergencies in virtual meetings. Hence, employees don’t know what to do when such an emergency happens.

  • Limitations exist in public emergency services, such as 911, making it extremely difficult for them to respond to an emergency happening outside of their own jurisdiction.

Recommendations

As a security and risk management leader responsible for technology, information and resilience risk, you should:

  • Create or update the organization’s crisis management procedures for employee use to ensure completeness when carrying out online emergency procedures.

  • Update every employee’s contact information regularly (i.e., quarterly), to ensure it is accurate for use in the event of an emergency. This information may include for example: home address, mobile phone number, personal email address, emergency contact information.

  • Establish training sessions to ensure all employees understand how to respond in emergency situations, as well as their level of responsibility. The question of how to help in this situation would obviously be a focal point in these conversations.

  • Investigate vendors for business continuity management solutions to see how they can support your medical emergency needs. All of them support multiple types of emergencies, so ensure to include multiple such use cases to maximize benefit from your investment.

Introduction

What are organizations doing in relation to emergency response capabilities in situations where there is a medical emergency in a virtual meeting? In many cases, the other participants have no way of knowing how to contact emergency medical services (such as 911 in the U.S. or 112 in Europe) for the person affected, nor will they have access to that individual’s address, physical location, family contacts, etc.

This is a scenario that is probably more and more likely in our world where significant portions of the employee population are working remotely, and one that few organizations have thought about. But what procedures and technology can be used for medical or other types of emergencies during virtual meetings?

Analysis

We do not see the virtual meeting solution vendors adding a feature such as a panic button to their offerings in the near future. There are many complications in doing this from a virtual meeting solution:

Note: The response below uses the U.S. 911 service as the example PSAP (public safety answering point). Each country has its own service and capabilities that need to be considered for a global solution.

  • The meeting solution vendor would need to have access to the location data for all of the participants in the virtual meeting if they were to implement such a feature. They wouldn’t have access to this information unless the vendor was a unified communications (UC) provider and the user was also a subscriber to that vendor’s telephony capabilities. Even then, it may not be a given since the location data might be a static database and not dynamic information, which raises additional privacy, legal and technical hurdles — not everyone wants others to know where they are. Also, in most cases people attend meetings over the internet, so there is no public switched telephone network (PSTN) involved, as well as privacy issues related to the disclosure of physical location information about a person.

  • Each country has a different PSAP-type service, if they have one at all (developing versus developed countries). In the U.S., the distributed PSAP policies present a major barrier today. There is an effort via the National Emergency Numbers Association (NENA) to build a national PSAP boundary registry. So when a call is received in one area and needs to be transferred to another area, the dispatcher can look up the appropriate PSAP to connect for service. This is an ArcGIS-based solution. This would allow someone to call 911, relay that to a colleague in Houston for example, and have the 911 dispatcher transfer the call locally to start the location identification.

Hence, organizations must develop their own practices for handling a medical emergency in a virtual meeting (see Figure 1). There are two complementary approaches to take:

  • Via an internal organizational procedure.

  • Through the use of technology — which requires the internal procedure in all cases.

Figure 1. Best Practices for Handling a Medical Emergency on a Virtual Meeting

Most organizations have personal contact information for each employee: a home address, a home landline phone or mobile phone. This information is typically in the human resources (HR) system or in the employee’s travel profile.

  • The home address and home landline phone would be useful information to have readily available if the person in distress is working from home.

  • A person’s mobile phone (acting as a proxy for that person) can be geolocated by emergency personnel (not organizational personnel) and, therefore, can be used to find the location of the phone/person regardless of where it is (home versus coffee shop versus car etc., if the person is on the virtual meeting when not at home). It also assumes the mobile phone is turned on — which in today’s world is an oddity if it is not.

In the event of an emergency, employees must be instructed as a standard crisis/emergency management practice to call upon:

  • HR

  • Physical/corporate security

  • The business continuity management program office

  • Their direct manager and/or

  • Other designated department or person

The employee will call on one or more of the above internal parties to inform them of the real-time emergency — medical or other. If the person in distress is from another company, employees or one of the above mentioned parties should be instructed to call the other company’s main number and report the emergency to their HR department.

For the person in distress, this information should be relayed to an emergency services operator (for example, a U.S. 911 operator) via the authorized representative at the organization. This internal organization representative should know how to call the local PSAP of the employee based on their location. With location, home number and/or mobile phone number of the person in distress in hand, contact emergency services for their assistance in reaching appropriate local PSAP if the internal representative does not know how. Many organizations also have “emergency contact” details for every employee, so the emergency contact for the person in distress should also be contacted. This would also be an important step if the representative was not able to reach a local 911 operator for the person in distress.

This procedure entails complexities, so it is recommended that the procedures used by the representative are well-documented and exercised. The procedure can be used for any type of emergency, for example: a medical emergency, an active shooter or a virtual meeting participant being attacked while online.

There are a few issues that should be considered or investigated:

  • If the employee is online but away from home, the mobile phone location is critical to a successful response.

  • Can first responders access the home of the person in distress if the employer makes the 911 call?

  • The IP address used for the online meeting can be helpful to identify the location of the person in distress, but is not full proof. For example, if they are using a VPN the IP address will not be known.

Gartner suggests taking the following actions in the event of a medical emergency occurring during a virtual meeting:

Action 1:

Accurate contact information is foundational for crisis communications. Internal procedures should emphasize maintaining current contact, emergency contact and address information for all employees. Home address and mobile phone number for the person in distress are critical for directing first responders to the right location. Even if it is only to a corporate directory, there should be an automated contact self-maintenance feature that prompts each employee to review and update their personal information and privacy settings for such information. This prompt should be done on a regular basis (e.g., quarterly).

Action 2:

Create/update the organization’s crisis management procedures for employee use. Establish training sessions to ensure all employees know how to respond in such situations, as well as their level of responsibility. The question of how to help in this situation would obviously be a focal point in these conversations.

There are four types of solutions used for crisis management purposes:

All four of the above solutions have a mobile app that can be used in an emergency situation. When the virtual meeting attendee starts to show signs of distress, the others on the virtual meeting would be trained to take action by initiating a crisis incident from their mobile device. This initiation would notify the designated organizational representative, who would have all of the employee’s information and also be trained on who to call for help (for example, 911 and then a designated emergency contact). After-action requirements for compliance and audit purposes could be tracked and recorded in the system as well.

The mobile app’s geospatial information system (GIS) mapping functionality can track and communicate with employees who are travelling to high-risk locations. This could also be extended to employees working from home, with a real-time map of their location and safety status.

Many of these solutions, especially the travel risk management solutions, work with third-party emergency services firms — e.g., medical assistance, evacuation services, personal protection services — that can be integrated into the process (see Table 1 for an example process flow).

A few points to note regarding the maturity of emergency structures in different nations:

    This approach assumes that the employee has a smartphone with the solution’s mobile app emergency/panic button installed. The limiting factor is that some employees do not have the app installed. The organization must educate their employee base on the value of using such an app and reinforce the point that the organization will not use this app to track employee movements and behavior.

    Another approach is to leverage Next Generation 911 (NG911) solutions (North American specific); however, most private organizations are not implementing them. If the organization is using an NG911 solution, then the process would be similar to the following:

    • Assuming the person on the virtual meeting is a known employee, the NG911 solution would know the location of both employees in the office as well as remote employees.

    • By initiating a call to the NG911 operations center, the virtual meeting moderator or designated organizational representative could request 911 assistance for the person in distress. With the location of the person in distress in the NG911 solution, the correct PSAP could be contacted and then help dispatched to that location.

    Even when using technology, the workflow includes a few levels of escalation to other team members, for example every 30 seconds, if there is no response from the designated organizational representative.

    We also foresee potential challenges to the successful use of such technology in some circumstances. For example:

    • If the emergency/panic button doesn’t work, or is hard to access on the mobile device.

    • If a mobile device PIN must first be entered to unlock the device, and then screens of apps scrolled through to find the specific technology vendor’s app.

    If technology challenges prove too difficult, the organization would revert to the use of the internal procedures and solution described in the first section above, but without the emergency/panic button in place.

    A final option is to provide life-saving bracelets or frontline worker technology to all employees, regardless of their work location. Refer to the to find a number of these solutions.

    Gartner suggests taking the following actions in the event of a medical emergency occurring during a virtual meeting:

    Action 3:

    Investigate if your organization is already using any of the above-mentioned technologies. Having a shortlist and established relationship is a good starting point.

    Action 4:

    Read Gartner’s report to understand how these solutions are unique and complementary at the same time.

    Action 5:

    Reach out the vendor(s) for these solutions to see how they can support your medical emergency needs. All of them support multiple types of emergencies, so make sure to include multiple such use cases to ensure you get the most benefit from your investment.

    Evidence

    Gartner Recommended Reading

    Analysts:

    Roberta Witty

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