COVID-19 is wreaking the most havoc in long-term care centers, and now researchers are looking to bring high-tech back-up. Their idea: smart watches and artificial intelligence algorithms that can spot infected patients before they even develop symptoms.
Posted on June 12, 2020 at 12:00 am
“We know that asymptomatic residents can transmit COVID-19 to employees who, in turn, can transmit it to other seniors. Quickly identifying and isolating cases is therefore a crucial challenge in long-term care centers, “said Samira A. Rahimi, assistant professor in the department of family medicine at McGill University, who will lead this project. She recalls that in Quebec, 80% of deaths related to COVID-19 occurred in CHSLDs and residences for the elderly.
In collaboration with Toronto researchers, Mme Rahimi wants to equip residents with smart watches that will transmit vital signs such as temperature, blood pressure or oxygen levels in seniors’ blood in real time. Sleep rhythms will also be studied. Other sensors may need to be placed on the residents’ bodies, but Professor Rahimi hopes the watches will suffice.
This information will be continuously transmitted to an artificial intelligence system.
“The algorithms will try to detect abnormalities in patients who indicate an infection. We believe that changes in pressure, oxygen levels and sleep occur before the symptoms of COVID-19 appear, “says Samira A. Rahimi. If a change is detected, an alert will be sent to the nursing staff, who can then pass a diagnostic test and isolate the patient.
This remote monitoring method will be tested in a pilot project at the Donald Berman Jewish Eldercare Center, as well as in a long-term care center in Toronto. If it proves effective, it could later be extended to other establishments. Mme Rahimi received financial support from the pharmaceutical company Roche Canada as part of the “Challenge to innovate against COVID-19” competition, which rewarded 11 potential solutions in the fight against COVID-19.
The researcher points out that CHSLD employees, especially during a pandemic, do not have the time to regularly take the residents’ temperature or vital signs, hence the advantage of an automated monitoring system. The watches are non-invasive, have long-lasting batteries, and are water resistant, so residents don’t have to worry about them and can forget about them. The project has obviously received the approval of the necessary ethical committees. It is part of a larger movement called “the internet of medical objects”, which aims to collect and analyze medical data remotely to improve care and diagnostics.