Digital Triage: Our First Line of Defense In Times Of Crisis

The following is a guest article by Guy Meger, GM/CTO/VP R&D of EarlySense.

As we continue to endure the debilitating impact of the novel coronavirus, countries around the world are beginning to ease restrictions and return to their daily routines, a welcome sign and hopefully an indication of good things to come. But as we embark on the path toward normalcy, it is prudent that we learn from the havoc that COVID-19 has inflicted on our economy, health industry and most importantly, the toll on our loved ones, and take actions to ensure that we will be better prepared in the future. This initiative must start where it matters most: healthcare providers.

The pain points experienced by global healthcare providers during the coronavirus crisis, mainly a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical staff, adequate space for quarantined patients and healthy, rested health practitioners, revealed a glaring state of unpreparedness across facilities worldwide in the face of a pandemic. To the shock and awe of people around the world, governments and organizations went to extremes to manage these shortcomings, resulting in alleged hijacked medical equipment accusations, mass delivery of face masks using NFL airplanes and even converting navy ships into mobile hospitals. At the same time, many organizations turned to digital health technologies to assist during this unprecedented time.

Hospital and Care Facility Infrastructure Readiness

While the majority of coronavirus patients experience mild to no symptoms and recover from the illness within a week or two, COVID-19 has taken a huge toll on older adults and people with serious underlying medical conditions, amounting to roughly 315,000 deaths worldwide as of this writing. A major cause of this toll is due to the fact that 84% of the U.S. population and 64% of the world population live in urban areas. Assisted living and nursing homes, which due to the aging population are at a high capacity, have only added to virus spread.

To help prepare for future pandemics and to avoid extreme, costly measures, providers must first come to terms with the fact that this growing elderly demographic, the densely populated city demographic and others in the population, will likely be at risk for future epidemics. Mitigating the risk of highly contagious viruses like COVID-19 from spreading faster requires facilities to employ a layered approach to care, one in which patients are stratified into risk groups depicting severity of illness for proper triage purposes. Through this triage system, only patients who need to be hospitalized risk a journey to the hospital, where the likelihood of infection is significantly raised. This prevents those at higher risk from jeopardizing their health by visiting care facilities.

Unfortunately, it is inevitable that many people will contract future highly contagious viruses, especially before they are discovered and defined as such by the World Health Organization. In order to accommodate the eventual mass influx of infected patients, proper physical infrastructure is needed to provide adequate space between infected patients and normal patients and health staff. Full isolation wards, not rooms, must be at the ready for emergency use with health staff to man them. It goes without saying that in addition to these wards, stockpiles of PPE must be created and maintained to protect our health staff from contracting harmful pathogens.

Patient Care via Contact-Free Continuous Patient Monitoring and Telehealth Solutions

As demonstrated by a world shortage of PPE, the main concern with patients in isolation is that they are highly contagious. To best care for these patients and protect health staff from risk of infection, contact-free continuous patient monitoring AI solutions which transmit real-time patient data to staff outside of the isolation rooms are necessary.

AI-powered patient monitoring solutions utilize data from millions of patients to provide highly accurate readings, and can be fine-tuned to deal with specific morbidities, including respiratory diseases, to provide better point of care guidance to physicians.

Upon analyzing patient readings, these solutions can spot trends and inconsistencies and alert staff to potential adverse health events before they happen and also allow remote control over the medical devices in isolated environments so care givers can change system configurations without putting themselves at risk.

An added advantage is that these sensors are non-invasive, meaning there are no leads or wearable devices touching the patient’s body that need adjustment. The non-invasive factor is crucial for COVID-19 patients in isolation, as caregivers often need to maneuver patients into a prone position to increase Sp02 levels, a task that is much easier without wires and attachments, especially those that are attached to a patient’s chest.

The contact-free dimension also means that the patient data collected is void of “noisy input,” meaning that it is unperturbed by the myriad of human error that may occur when fully gowned medical staff perform spot-checks on isolated patients. These clean patient readings can then translate into data that can be analyzed by big data systems to create new opportunities for effective, potentially life-saving intervention. As these devices are used to care for more infected patients, they continue to gather essential patient data, which will help patients with similar comorbidities in the future (respiratory patients, cardiac patients, etc.)

Additionally, other telehealth solutions like user-friendly apps or handheld self-examination devices are paramount for enabling isolated patients to conduct early stage care on their own. These solutions help patients manually enter relevant vitals, including body temperature, BP and saturation, and also allow patients to perform self-examinations to provide remote diagnosis of acute care situations.

Telehealth solutions offer an additional layer of screening and perspective for health practitioners, which is helpful in allocating the equipment and care needed to those who need it most, a critical factor during a global pandemic. By providing this full picture of patient health from a safe distance, health staff can make educated decisions regarding patient care, without needing to gown up and enter isolation areas to spot-check patients. These technologies further reduce the risk of infection among health staff and help mitigate the spread of dangerous viruses.

Digital Triage via Telehealth Care Kits

The successful implementation and use of these technologies by healthcare facilities over the past few months has shown the healthcare community that remote patient monitoring and telehealth solutions can and will be the front line of defense during a viral outbreak. Its successful utilization has demonstrated that we can effectively care for patients and help prevent medical staff from falling victim to future viruses. Moving forward, we can expect see the increased application of these tried and proven technologies in various types of care facilities and in the home in for the form of all-encompassing telehealth kits, especially in times of crisis, to best provide care while reducing further infection.

Embracing A New Reality and A New Standard Of Care

The world is settling from the wake of coronavirus and we are diligently trying to return to a state of normalcy. Nevertheless. the practices and protocols initiated during the coronavirus era will not soon be forgotten, and will continue to give healthcare providers and our veteran medical practitioners the advantage as we progress, ushering in a new digital reality of care.

As technology continues to advance and society becomes even more dependent on wireless communication, a dependence on remote patient monitoring technologies and telehealth solutions, which seems foreign and unfamiliar now, will feel natural and intuitive when it matters.

About Guy Meger

Guy Meger is the GM, CTO and VP of Research & Development at EarlySense, the global leader in contact-free, continuous monitoring solutions for the healthcare continuum. He received his B.SC in Computer Engineering from the Technion Israel Institute of Technology and his MBA from Tel Aviv University. Guy is also the author of several issued and pending patents.