Telemedicine and robot aid Sheba coronavirus preparations
February 25, 2020
The Sheba Medical Center in Israel is using telemedicine and robotics as part of its preparation for the coronavirus.
The programme consists of two main components: a robot, which is a Vici designed by Intouch Health, a California-based virtual reality healthcare programme, and a machine-learning-based telemedicine application designed by local firm Datos Health.
The centre has only a limited number of isolation rooms in the hospital, and the coronavirus preparation by using telemedicine provides an effective way to care for patients in the event that multiple diagnoses are made at the same time. Additionally, taking these precautions reduces the risk to hospital staff and other patients.
The Vici robot can enter the room of an infected patient, while being controlled by doctors or nurses who remain outside. Using this robot, the patient’s vital signs, such as heart rate, can be monitored.
“This is one way to use a telemedicine programme to protect our staff,” said Galia Barkai, head of telemedicine at Sheba. “By minimising direct contact between the patients and medical personnel, we reduce the percentage risk of healthcare staff contracting the virus.”
To treat patients who are less severely ill, the Datos Health application enables medical professionals to monitor their condition as they remain isolated in the comfort of their own homes.
“Less severe patients could be monitored outside the hospital,” Barkai said. “We give them our telemedicine application and communicate with them via video at least twice a day. This allows them to stay more comfortably in their homes and reduces risk within the hospital.”
Coronavirus preparation began at Sheba by testing the telemedicine programme before any patients tested positive for the virus in Israel. As a protective measure, people who had just returned to Israel from China reported to the medical centre and were quarantined at home for 14 days, the incubation period of the virus.
“Although we don’t presently have any positive patients in Israel, we are always dealing with suspected patients and preparing for the worst-case scenario,” said Barkai. “So we are creating all these systems to help us handle a situation where we might have to deal with many patients.”
A new field hospital was also established by Sheba as an external unit for treating coronavirus patients. Similar in design to a military field hospital, the unit is modular and can be erected quickly in a nearby open area. It will include a specialised area for doctors to examine patients suspected of having coronavirus, as well as an isolation area for anyone who tested positive. The first drill has already been conducted.
In this field hospital, Sheba’s doctors are able to provide all medical services available in their inpatient wing. However, the external, separate location of this unit benefits other hospitalised patients, especially because many sick persons are immunosuppressed and more vulnerable to catching the life-threatening virus.
The Datos platform can directly and continuously connect patients with their sources of medical care, and make it easier for care teams to extend their reach via close on-going contact with outpatients.
To help implement Sheba's coronavirus telemedicine programme, the platform-powered Datos mobile app will enable close remote monitoring by making it possible for patients to measure and record their body temperature continuously, and even reminding them to do so. The app will additionally allow medical staff to initiate video calls with patients, so as to check on their condition and provide them with the confidence that they're being fully taken care of.
"We are honoured to be part of Sheba's potentially life-saving initiative," said Datos CEO Uri Bettesh. "Datos is the ideal choice for this, being the first platform of its kind that can seamlessly fit into care teams' existing workflows, and provide them with crucial insights on patients monitored outside the hospital. Our technology and mobile app have already proven their worth in enabling Sheba to remotely monitor people having recently returned from the Far East with symptoms that could indicate coronavirus infection, in their own homes, while keeping both patients and hospital staff as safe as possible from unnecessary exposure."
Several high-level meetings have been held in Israel to discuss the coronavirus threat. Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with senior health, emergency and government executives to help put plans in place to prepare and protect the country.
“We are not taking any unnecessary risks,” Netanyahu said. “We are aware that the virus cannot be completely prevented, so we are preparing to deal with the virus after its first entry into Israel.”
In line with this sentiment, Sheba, along with Magen David Adom, also announced the implementation of safety measures to prevent blood transfusion patients from infection by the coronavirus.