Could thermal scanners end the COVID-19 lockdown?
Companies are increasingly turning to thermal cameras to detect signs of coronavirus in their employees and customers. After a lengthy period of lockdown businesses are eager to reopen, and avoid further losses due to staff sickness and closure.
The scanners use infrared technology to measure temperature, which are generally accurate to within half a degree. The hands-free devices also use advanced facial recognition technology to identify people with fevers. Those with high temperatures can then be sent home to prevent infection from spreading to other members of staff and customers.
This presents a possible way for businesses to get back to work while COVID-19 remains active among the population. Downtime caused by employee sickness could be prevented, whether due to COVID-19 or any other infectious disease. Workplaces that need to remain open, such as hospitals, schools, shops, restaurants and dentists, could particularly benefit.
Thermal scanners are used at airports around the world, as well as on public transport, in and . However there is evidence that most people are infected with coronavirus for five days or more before displaying symptoms. Studies show that - but can still pass on the disease.
Additionally COVID-19 is not the only type of infection or condition that causes a fever. A woman’s monthly cycle for example, can also cause a high temperature and lead to a false result. Researchers estimate that .
Thermal cameras were originally created for military use in the early 20th century. Later they became frequently used by firefighters to find people through smoke and fire. They are not medical devices, therefore can’t measure body temperature in the way thermometers can, but measure skin temperature instead.
The World Health Organization (WHO) concluded that temperature screening alone may not be very effective at detecting coronavirus. It can however be useful in combination with other tools. Thermal scanning could be the first in a number of screening tests, followed by a questionnaire or a test.
Earlier this year WHO published a list of screening recommendations for travellers, most of which apply in any setting. These are:
- Questionnaires for people to fill out with details of any symptoms, history of exposure and contact information.
- Trained staff who are available to help with early detection and evaluation of cases, equipped with the relevant medical supplies
- Signs with clear information on where medical attention can be accessed
- Thorough disinfection of areas used by customers and staff after usage
- Hand sanitizer available throughout the establishment
- Refusing entry to anyone suspected of carrying the disease
Zoom enters the healthcare market - a timeline
Since the pandemic began Zoom has become an integral part of daily life for people working from home, as well as a vital tool for families and friends to communicate. However it's also been eyeing up the healthcare space since 2017, and following the boom in telehealth the company has been rolling out additional services. Here we chart Zoom's move into healthcare.
2011 - 2013
Zoom is founded in San Jose, California, by Eric Yuan, formerly of Cisco. He got the idea to create a video calling platform from his visits to his girlfriend while he was a student, which would take 10 hours by train.
A beta version is released in 2012, which can host up to 15 participants. In 2013 this rises to 25. By mid-2013, Zoom has 1 million users.
2014 - 2017
Zoom attracts investors, including Sequoia Capital, Emergence and Horizon Ventures. By January 2017, Zoom has a series D funding worth $100 million.
2017 - 2019
Zoom for Telehealth launches, including an integration with EHR system Epic. It has cloud-based video, audio, and content sharing features, a "waiting room" for patients, and can easily be integrated into healthcare provider's workflows.
In 2019 Zoom goes public, with its IPO rising 72% in one day.
As a result of the pandemic, Zoom gains 2.2 million new users, more than in the whole of 2019. On the 23rd of March alone - the day the UK lockdown was announced - the platform was downloaded 2.13 million times around the world.
Share prices rise to around $150, and founder and chief executive Eric Yuan becomes one of the world's richest people, with an estimated net worth of $7.9 billion.
Early security issues are addressed by encrypting data with the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES). By now the the platform allows 99 people to be on a call simultaneously
New features launch, including Zoom Home and Zoom for Chats. Throughout the year the platform is used to replace most kinds of real life events: work meetings, online classrooms, church services and social events.
Renamed Zoom for Healthcare, users can share secured video, audio, and content through desktops, mobile phones, and conference devices. As well as Epic, it can be integrated with Strmr, IntakeQ, and Practice Better.
It can also be used with diagnostic cameras and other point-of-care devices, including digital stethoscopes.
In an interview with Korea Biomedical Review, Zoom Global Healthcare Lead Ron Emerson said: "Our service is not simply a virtual care and telemedicine platform but a multi-purpose platform that can satisfy the needs of healthcare institutions."
"It can be used for administrative tasks, including telemedicine, medical team meetings, recruitment, medical education, employee training, and disease prevention. Analysing electronic records managed by Zoom could provide meaningful insights into patient care."
Phoenix Children's Hospital, Belfast's Hospital Services Limited, Butler Health Services and the global Project ECHO are among Zoom for Healthcare's current customers.