High-Tech Tool Helps Vt. Hospital Streamline COVID-19 Screenings

Central Vermont Medical Center is now using a heat-sensing camera system at a public and a staff entrance

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A Vermont hospital is using a high-tech approach to streamline the patient screening process that's become the norm during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Getting them through faster and getting them to their appointments as quickly as possible is our goal," said Lisa Bovat, the patient experience manager at Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin, describing the latest addition to the hospital's screening area. "And to make sure everyone is safe in our building and in our community."

CVMC just started using a heat-sensing camera at both a public and a staff entrance, to take people's temperatures from a distance as they enter the hospital.

It's one of the facility's safety protocols aimed at detecting anyone with possible COVID-19 symptoms, like a fever, on arrival.

"We see this being, unfortunately, an important part of the world today and keeping everybody safe," said Jesse Harper of Vermont Security, a contractor for CVMC.

Before the new system, which also can flag people not wearing masks, the hospital was doing manual temperature checks on staff, patients, and visitors.

Robert Patterson, CVMC's vice president of human resources and clinical operations, said the previous checks—which required thermometers to be placed in people's mouths—were slower and more invasive.

"We're continuing to ask symptom-related questions, in addition to the temperature," Patterson noted. "So it's not just the temperature."

The system is accurate to about .27 of one degree, Patterson said and is programmed to flag someone whose temperature registers as 99.5 or greater.

If someone does register that temperature, they would be taken out of the busy entrance line for a safe and more in-depth screening, Patterson said. The new system has measured a handful of elevated temperatures already, he added—explaining those could have been due to factors unrelated to COVID-19.

The no-contact temperature checks also let some of the screeners go back to doing other jobs around the hospital now that regular clinical visits are picking back up again, the hospital explained.

Patterson could not provide a precise price tag for the project Tuesday morning but estimated it at around $40,000. He said new efficiency gained by implementing the system will essentially cover the costs of the tech in six or so weeks.

"I feel a lot better walking in," said Vanessa Taylor Lupien, who is about to welcome twins in just a few weeks.

Ahead of her appointment Tuesday at CVMC, Taylor Lupien walked through the new system for the first time. She told NECN and NBC10 Boston she was impressed with the system's speed, and how it boosted her comfort level.

"They're not up in your face and putting their hands near your face and everything," Taylor Lupien said of the screeners.

Patterson said pictures taken by that thermal camera are purged regularly, and couldn't be used to track any personal information.

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