By Don Dingee
In a COVID-19 pandemic awaiting vaccines, rural healthcare facilities across the United States are in the fight. Treating afflicted patients and protecting against spread of the virus are top priorities. Screening visitors for virus symptoms is an important but challenging step. Personnel and budgets are tight. Virus testing is invasive and expensive. Security and privacy are major concerns. Still, the potential cost of not screening people is massive. One rural healthcare provider is taking innovative action protecting its community.
Wayne HealthCare serves Greenville, OH, about 30 miles northwest of Dayton. Since 1922, it’s been the trusted provider for all medical care by Darke County’s 50,000 residents. A major expansion project adding 85,000 square feet to its main campus broke ground in May 2019(1).
Midway through their expansion project came COVID-19. Wayne HealthCare announced new visitor restrictions in March 2020. These included screening questions for visitors and denying entry for flu-like symptoms. Shelton Monger, CIO and VP of Information Services for Wayne HealthCare, saw an opportunity for automation. “We’ve never been afraid to use state-of-the-art technology when solving challenges,” Monger says(2).
Out of a prior crisis, a viable solution
The severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003 presented a public health crisis. An airborne coronavirus causes SARS, as in COVID-19. Elevated body temperature, over 38°C, is an early symptom along with headache, fatigue, and muscle pain.
Stopping the spread of SARS across Asia became a major public health initiative. Isolation, masking, and contact tracing were key initial responses. Officials determined air travel accelerated the spread of SARS. They looked for a rapid screening process, one that could scan crowds of travelers quickly and non-invasively.
Infrared thermography was moving from military to commercial use as imagery costs dropped. Could thermal imaging perform rapid screening for elevated skin surface temperature? People radiate infrared energy very efficiently, even through most clothing or masks. Thermal imaging equipment is noninvasive, portable, and needs no consumables. Data is real-time, allowing immediate routing of people with symptoms for further checks(3).
There are practical limitations. Someone exercising or in heat or sunlight can have warm skin if they have not cooled down. Caffeine, nicotine, and other stimulants can increase skin surface temperature. Also, accurate thermal measurements often need several frames of data. Many subjects moving in the same frame can present issues.
Even with 2003 technology, thermal imaging proved effective in rapid screening for SARS. Worst case, it may flag someone found fever-free upon further individual screening. Almost two decades have passed since SARS, and technology continues advancing. Enhanced thermal imaging can step right into COVID-19 rapid screening today.
Efficient COVID-19 screening at Wayne HealthCare
“Hands-on forms or tablets for every visitor walking through our doors weren’t a great option,” Monger says. Shuffling paper COVID-19 questionnaires would swamp receptionists. Self-serve tablets meant sanitizing between each visitor. “As important as it is, we couldn’t afford more people to handle screening,” Monger continues. “Thermal imaging lets visitors pass a hands-off screening station without stopping. The receptionist gets an alert if a high temperature is detected.” Visitors step aside for a thermometer check by the receptionist if needed.
In April 2020, Monger checked in with Tim Mitchell, Advantech’s District Sales Manager. Monger knew about Advantech’s line of industrial tablets. Now, he wanted to hear about Advantech’s Visitor Thermal Screening solution. “It’s a thermal imaging appliance with preloaded software,” says Mitchell. “There’s a visible plus infrared camera that records a visitor snapshot. A receptionist sees results on their dashboard before the visitor reaches the desk.” Facial recognition can accurately split several people passing a station at the same time.
A fanless Advantech UBX-310D embedded system running Windows 10 hosts each Visitor Thermal Screening station. These integrate with the Wayne HealthCare IT network. Central management software shows IT teams trend analysis and event cross comparison for all stations. Local hosting means no cloud, a big plus for security and privacy. Cameras come in either turret or bullet styles, with a tripod mounting adapter. An optional black body temperature reference enhances accuracy.
“We started with one prototype of our scanner setup in May 2020, and it worked efficiently right away,” says Monger. “People walk up to the receptionist’s desk expecting a manual scan or questions. When they hear they’ve already been scanned and passed, they’re impressed.” Scans are accurate even if visitors are wearing hats, sunglasses, and COVID masks.
Installing scan stations is easy, with standard Gigabit Ethernet or optional Wi-Fi connectivity. “We’re all in,” Monger says. He expects growing to 15 stations at the main hospital campus in Greenville and outpatient facilities in nearby Versailles and Union City.
Healthcare technology evolving with a changing world
Public health measures against COVID-19 have been compared to layers of Swiss cheese. The virus may get through holes in a single layer, but layers of overlapping protection let less virus pass. Hands-off rapid screening efficiently adds one more layer of protection for Wayne HealthCare. Often, the public does not see technology at work, but in this case, it’s visible yet unobtrusive right when they walk in.
Advantech’s commitment to intelligent healthcare has created many solutions to challenging problems. The Visitor Thermal Screening solution grew out of an idea from almost two decades ago. Advantech anticipated similar needs would rise again – and they have. Improved thermal imagers and smaller, more powerful computing make today’s solution ready to deploy anywhere. It is affordable and integrates into healthcare campus networks easily.
Healthcare teams can count on Advantech for reliable, state-of-the-art technology evolving with a changing world. Advantech sales teams are ready to consult on specific needs and find the best solutions to challenges. Automation frees people to do what they do best: provide quality care and compassionate attention.
For more information on the Advantech Visitor Thermal Screening solution, click here
(1) “Dayton-area hospital breaks ground on $56M expansion project,” Elizabeth Kyle, Dayton Business Journal, May 22, 2019
(2) “Wayne HealthCare using Thermal Imaging System,” Rob Kiser, The Daily Advocate, September 7, 2020
(3) “Thermal Imaging for Detecting Potential SARS Infection”, R. James Seffrin, National Conference on Thermal Images for Fever Screening, Singapore, May 30, 2003, https://irinfo.org/06-01-2003-seffrin