With coronavirus continuing to loom over the world, interest in infection prevention and innovation within the field is at an all-time high. What is becoming increasingly obvious is that new technologies must be developed to form a proper response. With many distinct advantages over exclusively manual disinfection, automated and semi-automated systems are emerging as the logical next step in infection prevention technology. Greg Montalbano, Chief Creation Officer and CEO of MIDI Medical Product Development joins us on episode three of MIDI Innovation Vault™ to discuss the role that automation will play in infection prevention as new devices and methods are developed in response to COVID-19.
Holes in Our Defense
As discussed in previous episodes, hospital-acquired infections, or HAIs, and the innovations used to combat them have served as the basis of MIDI’s approach to conceiving and developing innovative devices aiming to satisfy new needs in the infection prevention arena. HAIs are extremely pervasive in healthcare environments due to the variety of sources through which they are spread. Pathogens can survive on almost any surface for days, weeks, or even months if the circumstances allow. The hands of healthcare workers, as well as their instruments, clothing, and personal items can play a major role in spreading these pathogens. Manual disinfection has always been the standard for combating this; yet, there are several disadvantages to manual methods that make them insufficient to thoroughly perform infection prevention on their own.
Probably the most important of these disadvantages is that the efficacy of manual disinfection is heavily dependent on the individual performing it. Any action performed by a human will have a margin of error, nearly ensuring that any manual method of disinfection cannot be absolutely one hundred percent effective. This is assuming that healthcare workers always perform these tasks to the best of their ability; in truth, compliance, including consistent and correct usage, can be a serious issue for healthcare facilities, and manual surveillance currently used to track compliance is often costly and labor-intensive. Additionally, because most manual disinfection methods utilize harsh chemicals like bleach, they can often pose the risk of damaging equipment and cannot be repeated that often. Beyond this, manual methods require a great deal of labor on the part of providers, interrupting their routines and depriving them of time that should be dedicated to caring for patients.
The Advantages of Automation
These disadvantages point to the need for a major shift in infection prevention to form a proper response to COVID-19 that will allow us to manage the spread of the disease and return to normal operations. Greg is adamant that, if used in a layered approach with existing practices, automated and semi-automated technologies will provide the edge needed to do this, as they solve many of the issues that make manual disinfection less than ideal. Beyond the obvious advantage of eliminating human error, automated and semi-automated infection prevention techniques are less obstructive to healthcare providers and cut down on the amount of time and labor dedicated to disinfection. This produces cost savings and allows providers more time to focus on improving patient outcomes.
These techniques are also more repeatable, as most use alternative disinfection methods rather than harsh chemicals. They support compliance by requiring little to no training, and can even passively track caregivers’ compliance for administrative use. When used in conjunction with manual cleaning and disinfection, which Greg stresses the importance of even with new technologies emerging, automation can fill gaps in infection prevention and improve quality of life in ways that ultimately benefit everyone. And the efficacy of these technologies is already being proven by research; Greg cites one study funded by the CDC which measured outcomes of an automated hospital disinfection technology that uses UV-C light. It found that the system reduced the risk of pathogen colonization and infections among patients admitted to the same room prior by thirty percent when layered with existing manual disinfection protocols.
Already, the innovation boom created by COVID-19 has produced several examples of semi-automated and fully automated technologies aimed at infection prevention, and the pressing need for these technologies has brought them to the forefront of the industry. “Many emerging and established infection prevention technologies that previously were receiving lukewarm public sector and government support are now red hot,” Greg states, asserting that business and advanced technology firms will be key players in the fight against coronavirus. MIDI in particular has worked on GE’s Smart Patient Room and continues to work with GE’s Global Research Center developing devices and systems that track healthcare providers’ compliance with disinfection protocols, specifically handwashing. As discussed earlier in this series, MIDI has also developed a device called the FlooRx which disinfects the soles of providers’ shoes passively as they enter rooms using UV-C.
Another example mentioned by Greg is a locker, developed by Stelo Locks in New York City, that is designed to disinfect doctors’ coats after every shift using the same UV technology. Additionally, running adjacent to these direct infection prevention technologies are asynchronous healthcare market applications. Some of these involve robots, which are being used to perform important tasks that require patient contact such as medication delivery. According to Greg, Artificial Intelligence is now being used in imagining, with one AI software automating analysis of C.T. scans to identify lung problems in COVID-19 patients. It is also being used in drug research, where AI-powered drug discovery platforms are being used to identify possible treatments. Even Apple and Google have begun efforts to launch a universal app using Bluetooth signals to track potential cases and trace points of contact.
What makes all this technology so incredibly important is that hospitals are no longer the only environment where infection prevention must be a priority. With COVID-19 continuing to spread, we must be practicing prevention methods everywhere we go in order to protect ourselves and others. Developing, testing, and implementing these automated technologies within healthcare settings, integrating them with existing manual disinfection practices, will allow them to permeate into our everyday lives and settings, which will be crucial in the fight against coronavirus as well as any future viruses. Experts in Infection Control Technology development with a focus on device and software IoT application, the team at MIDI is well-prepared to join this fight and assist their clients in developing innovations that will revolutionize infection prevention as we know it and make tangible improvements in our world.
Keep an eye out for the next episode of MIDI Innovation Vault™ for more information on the technological response to coronavirus and innovations currently on the horizon.