The Post-COVID-19 hospital: Part 2Marie Donlon | August 16, 2021
Much of “The Post-COVID-19 hospital: Part 1” described an assortment of robots likely to be part of the future hospital landscape. Part 2 will look at some of the other innovations likely to be included in post-pandemic hospitals, beginning with technology that takes healthcare beyond hospital walls.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth, or telemedicine, was reserved for treating patients in the rarest of circumstances: namely those in remote yet connected regions.
However, once the pandemic hit, canceled in-person doctor and hospital visits, emergency rooms and urgent cares trips, therapy sessions and even routine dental appointments soon followed.
As such, hospitals and other medical offices began offering patients assorted telehealth options to check in with their healthcare providers for everything from routine exams to visits with therapists and mental health practitioners.
More than one year later, such remote appointments are still widely attended as concerns over different strains of the coronavirus emerge. With benefits including convenience, appointment availability beyond conventional office hours, lowered risk of transmitting or contracting illnesses beyond COVID-19 and reduced commute and wait times, telehealth’s place in the future healthcare landscape is almost certainly guaranteed.
Instead of designating healthcare workers — already overburdened by a pre-COVID-19 workload — to tasks such as monitoring patients’ vital signs, researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) CSAIL have developed a device capable of monitoring patient breathing, sleep patterns and movement via wireless signals and artificial intelligence (AI), communicating those results to a remotely located doctor.
Such technology is likely to alleviate the burden on healthcare workers dealing with both pre- and post-COVID-19 patient loads, enabling them to direct their efforts to higher value healthcare tasks going forward.
Similarly, researchers from Johns Hopkins University have developed a robotic system that enables hospital staff to operate ventilators and other life-saving equipment remotely.
The system includes a ventilator touch screen featuring a horizontal bar along the top of the screen, which functions as a stationary track for the movement of two vertical bars that run the full height of the screen. Moving across the screen, a stylus carried by the vertical bars moves up and down in response to its commands. Meanwhile, a connected camera sends images of the screen to healthcare operators located outside of the patient’s room.
Like the remote monitoring of vital signs, this system allows healthcare personnel to remotely monitor COVID-19 and other infectious patients without expending personal protective equipment and reducing the spread of the infection by limiting patient contact with staff.
Meanwhile, scientists from Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a “smart tendon hammer” and an accompanying mobile app that enables healthcare workers to perform remote deep tendon reflex exams — a component of neurological assessments sidelined by the pandemic. Such exams, could, going forward, be performed off premises, restricting the number of people in a healthcare space at any one time — this would be particularly valuable in the event of a future pandemic.
Masks were a critical component of care even before the COVID-19 pandemic, and they are worn throughout designated areas of a hospital, including the operating room. Now considered life-saving, masks are worn virtually everywhere to limit the transmission of COVID-19 via potentially infected particles emitted from laughing, coughing and even talking.
Consequently, countless mask solutions have been introduced during the pandemic that are bound to stick around. Some of those with the potential for most staying power include a copper-infused mask that blocks microscopic air particles while simultaneously offering appropriate ventilation, a mask that features an anti-viral barrier that kills SARS-CoV-2 in just minutes and face masks with the ability to emit a fluorescent signal if a built-in sensor detects COVID-19 when the wearer breathes, coughs or sneezes.
These are just some of the innovations bound to carry over to post-COVID-19 healthcare settings. Check back with Engineering360 for even more innovations likely to change the post-COVID-19 hospital.