As COVID-19 continues to be an active threat, innovation has begun with the goal of preventing infection through new and imaginative methods. In the fourth installment of MIDI Innovation Vault™, Greg Montalbano, Chief Creation Officer and CEO of MIDI, provides an overview of the technologies currently available and in development that stand to make real, tangible change in the fight against COVID-19, both within the healthcare setting as well as public and personal settings.
Before we dive in, it must be made clear that no single method, device, or system will fulfill every infection prevention need. In Greg’s words, “There’s no one silver-bullet technology or application that’s going to resolve everyone’s issues from medical markets to supermarkets.” Having a multi-layered system geared toward infection prevention is absolutely key to developing and maintaining the best defense possible against the spread of pathogens. Protocol and compliance standards must be created and strictly adhered to, particularly in healthcare settings where it is more important than ever to mitigate the risk of patient infection as much as possible. This discussion features technologies designed to be used in conjunction with existing disinfection practices—not to replace them completely.
Innovation in Healthcare
Within the healthcare environment, there are already a great number of innovations being used to combat the permeation of coronavirus. In Greg’s words, “the meat and potatoes” of the infection prevention field as it applies to healthcare settings is UV-C technology. The UV-C Disinfection System utilizes UV to disinfect air and surfaces, typically killing 99.9% of pathogens, even resilient bugs such as C. diff, Candida, and MRSA. It is a direct line-of-sight modality which uses multiple emitters to minimize shadows and reduce distance from surfaces, maximizing disinfection. These systems can come in many different forms, some being robotic, while others come in the form of a locker-type container that disinfects its contents. Another important system identified by Greg is the Hydrogen Peroxide Disinfection System, which disinfects entire rooms by filling them with a mist of hydrogen peroxide. This system, like UV-C, kills 99.999% of pathogens and is effective against pervasive HAIs or hospital-acquired infections. While both systems are used, UV-C is more popular.
One field that is producing a great deal of innovation in response to COVID-19 is robotics. Robots are currently being implemented for a number of applications, particularly in healthcare settings where contact must be minimized as much as possible. Some applications include handling biohazardous materials, disinfecting rooms, delivering medication, and communicating with and collecting information from isolated patients. Importantly, robots also lighten the load on healthcare workers who are already overworked and reducing in number.
Artificial Intelligence is also proving to be a promising addition to the arsenal of infection prevention tools currently on hand, particularly in the fields of drug research and medical imaging. Automated Imaging and Analysis software is currently in use worldwide, scanning C.T. images for signs of damage related to COVID-19. This alleviates the workload facing providers (important with the overwhelming number of scans currently being performed) and allows patients to receive their diagnosis and treatment in a more timely manner. In drug research, AI-powered drug discovery platforms are being used to explore possible treatments by searching for new molecules capable of combating coronavirus or by mining databases of previously approved medications that may be applied to it.
Biometric and thermal recognition technologies are currently seeing a surge in use as well. Thermal recognition programs search for and record elevated temperatures. Meanwhile, the passive collection of biometric data allows for individuals who are experiencing elevated temperatures to be identified and isolated. This can allow for early detection and intervention in COVID-19 cases. These systems are also great tools for identifying caretakers who are noncompliant with prevention guidelines, particularly those who neglect to wash their hands or wear a mask. Despite the controversial nature of facial and iris recognition software, many governments and organizations are currently reevaluating their stance on the use of these technologies as they prove to be more and more useful in preventing infection spread.
Everyday Infection Prevention
Beyond the healthcare environment, COVID-19 has produced a new set of infection prevention needs that exist in our homes, workplaces, and shopping centers. Innovations are already being made to respond to these needs, including the application of existing technologies in non-medical settings. One such example cited by Greg is a robotic system that disinfects airplane seats using UV-C, similar in design to a drink cart. This product, developed by German Falcon, uses extendable wings to shine UV-C light down onto the seats, killing any pathogens that may live there. Another example is from a company called PhoneSoap, previously featured on the television series Shark Tank. This product is a phone case that uses UV-C light to kill pathogens on the surface of cell phones, important in that the average mobile device is touched over 2600 times a day.
On the topic of mobile devices, one major innovation currently in development is contact-tracing technology. Currently, Apple and Google are working together to devise ways in which their operating systems can be used to track and minimize the spread of coronavirus. This system will use Bluetooth to communicate with surrounding devices and store those interactions in a database. If someone is infected with COVID-19, they will be able to enter this information into an app and automatically notify anyone they may have had contact with the days previous, no matter how indirect or insignificant that contact may have been. This, in turn, allows others to detect their own infection earlier and isolate to prevent further permeation.
One application that we all are likely to be aware of is the use of robots in order fulfillment. Quarantine has made even grocery shopping a risky and sometimes stressful ordeal. Companies are responding to this by offering automated fulfillment services, such as grocery delivery. While Amazon has already been working on these technologies for years, their use has not truly begun to trickle into smaller chains and businesses until now. Greg also predicts that household automation through the use of voice technology and smart home devices will see a spike in innovation and development as social isolation continues.
Moving forward, the technologies outlined here and those like it will have significant impact in our continuing battle with COVID-19. Despite a slowing economy, innovation is absolutely booming as developers in all fields do what they can to contribute to infection prevention efforts. With more imaginative solutions certain to come, we will continue to work towards a future no longer plagued with the threat of coronavirus, in which infection prevention is a natural and integrated part of everyday life.
Look forward to the next episode of MIDI Innovation Vault™ to learn about the newest and most effective technologies emerging in the infection prevention market.