Nov 12 2020

LeadingAge20: Thermal Cameras Bring Added Protection to Senior Care

The technology isn’t foolproof, but it is helping communities identify — and keep out — some visitors who may be infected with COVID-19.

For senior care communities, the main conduit for COVID-19 is deceptively simple: a building’s front door.

“We know the primary way the virus gets into a nursing home or an assisted living community is from staff — and it’s often those who work in more than one community or those who are going home to their families and unwittingly becoming infected,” Katie Smith Sloan, president of LeadingAge, recently told HealthTech.

This is why more providers have deployed thermal camera technology in the past few months. The subject was highlighted in several sessions this week at the LeadingAge Annual Meeting Virtual Experience, which will continue online Nov. 17-19.

By quickly screening an incoming employee or visitor for elevated body temperature — a common but not definitive symptom of COVID-19 — staff can deny that person entry to help prevent unintentional spread of the disease.

Infrared technology often calibrates against a “black body” accessory to indicate the difference between a subject’s temperature and the black body’s predetermined temperature. Some setups use multiple pieces of equipment; others are all-in-one touchless kiosks that print a wearable sticker after a reading is taken to confirm an individual is approved to enter.

Although the pandemic has prompted more providers to discover and deploy these tools, they can serve a broader long-term purpose during periods such as flu season.

“This is not a COVID-19 strategy; this is an infection control strategy,” Jim Dellapa, CIO of the Piscataway, N.J.-based aging services organization Parker Life, told LeadingAge audiences Wednesday.

Temperature Screening Tech Supports Efficiency and Data Collection

At the start of the pandemic, employees at Cypress Living in Fort Myers, Fla., were stationed at the entrance to take readings with a manual thermometer and record the details on paper (they later moved to using Office 365 and iPad devices).

The assisted living and memory care community, located on a peninsula, ultimately set up a thermal camera system at a single point of entry.

“We set up our screening checkpoint at that one location that allowed us to control where people got screened, which was a huge benefit,” Joe Velderman, the organization’s vice president of innovation, told LeadingAge attendees. “An automated solution brought more efficiency and more data collection into the process.”

READ MORE: Learn how hospitals have deployed thermal cameras to protect patients and staff.

Not only can the thermal imaging system quicky report the temperature of a Cypress Living staffer, it can record and transmit that information so employees or inspectors can search records by name, time or date to assist with contact tracing.

Still, thermal cameras shouldn’t be used as a catchall, LeadingAge panelists stressed.

“Infrared temperature scanning is not a silver bullet,” Velderman said, noting frequent COVID-19 testing for employees is the best line of defense. “We have had plenty of staff members test positive for COVID without having a single symptom.”

A person who has been out in the sun, on the other hand, may need to cool down and be screened again.

Best Practices for Using Thermal Cameras in Senior Care Communities

Setting up a thermal screening system requires planning, speakers told LeadingAge audiences.

Senior care teams must be diligent when vetting potential vendors. “The market has been flooded with these systems,” said Dellapa, who emphasized the tools should be a “core competency” for any technology provider being considered.

Cypress Living staff tested one infrared solution against manual thermometers on incoming guests before moving forward with the purchase, Velderman said.

Communities must determine where and how screening technologies will be used. The safeguard is useless if other entrances remain open and unchecked, and protocols must be in place to quickly react if a high-risk individual is detected.

Meanwhile, an ongoing dialogue to share best practices and feedback about screening efforts must involve everyone working in a senior care community.

“This is not a solo IT project,” Majd Alwan, executive director of the LeadingAge Center for Aging Services Technologies, told conference attendees. “Understand the data interoperability requirements, your Wi-Fi needs and the IT infrastructure needed to support and even future-proof it.”

Keep this page bookmarked for articles from the event. Follow us on Twitter @HealthTechMag as well as the official organization account, @LeadingAge, and join the conversation using the hashtag #LeadingAge20.

Remus Kotsell/Getty Images