April 1, 2020

Robots, telemedicine, and more: How hospitals are leveraging tech to limit coronavirus exposure

Daily Briefing

    Hospitals around the world are using both new and established technologies to protect patients, clinicians, and high-risk individuals from being exposed to the new coronavirus.

    Get the slides: How COVID-19 is transforming telehealth

    Hospitals use robots to talk with patients, disinfect rooms

    As the global case count continues to rise, providers have turned to innovative technologies to help treat patients with the virus and limit potential exposure.

    For instance, doctors at Providence Regional Medical Center in Washington used Vici, a robot that essentially is a tablet on wheels, to communicate with patients diagnosed with COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

    According to Forbes, hospitals in China similarly are using robots to deliver food and medical supplies to patients with suspected and confirmed cases of the virus, as well as robots that collect patients' trash and used bed sheets.

    Axios reports that hundreds of hospitals already use robots to disinfect medical rooms and kill germs and pathogens like MRSA that can cause infections. For instance, one robot from Xenex uses pulsed xenon UVC light to eliminate pathogens. According to Axios, Xenex's robot is used in more than 500 hospitals around the world to help reduce hospital associated infections.

    And while the device hasn't officially been tested against the new coronavirus, Melinda Hart, a spokesperson for the company, said the company is fielding calls on how and if the robot can be used to clean COVID-19 patients' rooms.

    "Our science team has been on the phone nonstop with hospitals to discuss protocols for disinfecting rooms and areas where suspect patients have been and are being treated," Hart said.

    In addition, to disinfecting and communicating with patients, hospitals in China are using an artificial intelligence system created by Infervision to identify cases of the virus among CT images of patients' lungs. According to MedCity News, "[t]he hope is by diagnosing cases more quickly, health care workers can limit their exposure to the virus."

    Hospitals rely on telemedicine to slow virus' spread

    Hospitals also are turning to telemedicine to help limit exposure to the virus and contain its spread.

    CDC has suggested that providers first evaluate patients with suspected cases of the virus remotely instead of having them come to the hospital, and some clinicians, hospitals, and health care insurers are telling patients with mild symptoms to conduct their initial doctors' visits via phone, video, and secure messaging.

    Robert Wyllie, chief of medical operations at the Cleveland Clinic, said doctors at the hospital have used video visits to screen potentially infected patients before they arrive at the doctor's office, urgent care center, or ED "to sit in a waiting room and potentially infect other patients."

    Similarly, Providence—which operates 51 hospitals, including Providence Regional Medical Center, and 1,000 clinics—plans to use chatbots to direct patients to appropriate care in accordance with CDC guidelines.

    Meanwhile, Kaiser Permanente is using telehealth to provide care to members who are quarantined in their homes. Patrick Courneya, Kaiser Permanente's CMO, said patients are communicating with doctors via phone, video, and messaging.

    Intermountain Healthcare also has used video visits to care for coronavirus patients. The health system treated a patient who was a passenger on the Diamond Princess cruise ship. While nurses care for the patient in person, doctors check on the patient using a video feed, according to Todd Vento, a medical director for Intermountain's infectious-disease telehealth program.

    Providers eye other technologies to help combat coronavirus

    Some hospitals also are looking to employ new technologies to prepare for an expected influx of patients with the new coronavirus, which could threaten hospital capacity and resources. For example, tech company Current Health is marketing an arm-based device that can allow doctors to monitor a patient's pulse, oxygen saturation, respiratory rate, and skin temperature remotely.

    According to Chris McCann, Current Health's CEO, the company has received a lot of inquiries about the device over the past week. "It's still early days. Most of the focus with public health is still on containment," he said, but he added, "(Providers) are trying to be in a position where if it does get worse, they can manage it" (Wilde Mathews/Evans, Wall Street Journal, 3/4; Muller, Axios, 3/4; D'Onfro, Forbes, 2/2; Reuter, MedCity News, 3/4; Lai et al., New York Times, 3/5; CDC website, 3/5).

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