Infrared thermometers, cameras may deliver 'false sense of security' for COVID-19 screenings

Los Angeles-based Martin Luther King Jr. Community Hospital, Chicago-based Rush University Medical Center and other providers have invested thousands of dollars in infrared thermometer technology, however, temperature checkpoints may not actually provide much protection from COVID-19 in workplaces, Wired reports.

Martin Luther King Jr. Hospital purchased a $20,000 infrared camera system to screen staff for fevers along with requiring employees and visitors to answer a daily questionnaire about their health. While the FDA says infrared thermometers and cameras can effectively screen for fever, workplaces and venues that use the technology may not have much success spotting infected individuals.

"You cannot expect fever and symptom screening to be any kind of foolproof measure," said Jamie Lloyd-Smith, PhD, an infectious diseases professor at University of California Los Angeles. "COVID-19 seems to be spread quite effectively by people who are hard to detect this way."

Dr. Lloyd-Smith published a study in February that examined how effective symptom and risk-factor screenings worked during the Ebola outbreak in 2014-16; for COVID-19, Dr. Lloyd-Smith concluded that screening for symptoms such as fever or cough would miss more than half of the people infected by the disease, according to the report.

UC San Francisco hospitals said they do not use temperature checkpoints because it is easy for infected individuals to slip through by methods like taking fever-reducing medication. Hildegarde Schell-Chaple, a nursing professor at the health system, told Wired that the time and expense of screening with infrared thermometers or cameras is "unjustified." 

"People feel better if they see it happening, but it's a false sense of security," Ms. Schell-Chaple said. "It's something we should not be doing."

At Rush University Medical Center, infrared temperature screening stations have caught a few people who displayed additional COVID-19 symptoms, according to Jordan Dale, MD, associate chief medical informatics officer. While Dr. Dale said he knows the tech is imperfect, he said that even partial successful screenings make an impact.

"If we can prevent just one febrile person from coming onsite and spreading the virus inside the hospital, that has a huge impact," he said.

More articles on health IT:
Microsoft, Adaptive Biotechnologies launch virtual COVID-19 immunity study: 4 details
AMA's guide for restoring public trust in data sharing
Mount Sinai, Google Nest partner for COVID-19 patient monitoring

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