Wearable devices to support Covid contact tracing in Aussie hospitals

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Researchers from Monash University and Alfred Health have been trialling the use of electronic identification tags worn by healthcare workers in the infectious diseases ward at The Alfred hospital in Melbourne.

Initial studies have reportedly found that identification tags can collect information that is useful for contact tracing, which is said to provide insights into interaction times between staff and locations throughout the hospital.

The system could help protect frontline workers and patients by supporting health services to control outbreaks.

Associate Professor Mehmet Yuce from the Department of Electrical and Computer Systems Engineering at Monash University says the use of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies enabled the connectivity of each device to make the data more accurate.

“As part of our research, we set up an IoT-connected contact tracing system powered by Bluetooth in the infectious diseases ward at The Alfred.

“Within each room, we installed beacon sensors which would identify each person entering the room based on their wearable identification tag and then transmit this data to a central receiver,” says Associate Professor Yuce.

“The connectivity between the beacons, wearable tags and receivers meant that critical information was obtained instantaneously and could be analysed to inform appropriate infection prevention policies.”

It’s said that in the event that a positive case is identified in the hospital, the advanced system is designed to accurately trace the close contacts of that person and identify those who should isolate based on proximity and interaction times, as well as identify the areas which need to be deep cleaned.

Associate Professor Andrew Stewardson, Infectious Diseases Physician and NHMRC Early Career Fellow at the Department of Infectious Diseases, The Alfred hospital and the Department of Infectious Diseases at Monash University, says that healthcare workers are at a greater risk of contracting Covid-19, and any technological advancement that improves the speed and accuracy of contact tracing is welcome.

“Protecting healthcare workers from infectious diseases, like Covid-19, also keeps them at work – minimising furlough to maintain the capacity of the hospital system,” says Associate Professor Stewardson.

“Vaccination and robust infection control practices, including appropriate personal protective equipment, are the key tools to keep our frontline staff and patients safe.

“However, the introduction of an advanced contact tracing system, like the one we have been testing, would complement these measures by providing accurate contract tracing data that promises to contain possible outbreaks more efficiently, and with improved certainty.”

The device is being trialled in collaboration with Alfred Health and has the capability to be implemented across other hospitals and aged care settings throughout Australia.