Hearing aids are common in hospitals and clinics, but basic tools present new challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The patient may be attached to a noisy ventilator, or a doctor’s protective helmet may mute sounds from the patient’s heart or lungs. The traditional model also requires the user and the recipient to be close, which presents risks to both parties.
Digital headphones, which can collect and transmit the same readings as their analog counterparts, help complete the vital task in the era of social distancing.
“I have avoided using conventional medical stethoscopes with COVID patients because no matter how hard you try to clean them, there is a constant fear that you may transmit COVID to a patient who is not infected with COVID,” says Dr. Shannon T. Peter, VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System hospital physician.
Plus, smart tools provide high-quality sound with adjustable volume. The voice can be filed in the patient’s medical record or sent to another doctor for a second opinion.
‘Extremely Valuable’ Tool in High-Risk Settings
The preventive benefits of digital hearing aids became more evident in 2014 during the Ebola crisis, when the tools were shipped to medical teams in Africa, says Clive Smith, CEO of Thinklabs Medical, one of the manufacturers of the technology.
When placed on a patient, a palm-sized stethoscope transmits sound to a smartphone, computer, or speaker using a USB cable or an optional Bluetooth transmitter. The stethoscope can be connected to telemedicine platforms or video conferencing, and the accompanying Thinklabs app can be used to create waveforms for visual aid.
The digital headphones were helpful in caring for Ebola-infected American citizens who were evacuated from Africa to Nebraska medicine. The health system in Omaha, Nebraska operates a 10-bed biocontainment unit and a 20-bed quarantine unit, the only federal quarantine unit in the country.
“It’s very valuable and a great way to avoid having to send people into the room of a patient with a very serious infectious disease,” says Kate Poulter, director of nurses for the Biocontainment Unit, who uses a Thinklabs One digital stethoscope and other models.
Boulter says staff already in a high-risk patient room can place a digital stethoscope on that person, and a multidisciplinary team located elsewhere can take voices and help with clinical decisions.
This configuration proved its worth again in February 2020 after 15 American passengers stranded aboard the Diamond Princess, the site of a massive COVID-19 outbreak that has recorded more than 700 cases, were sent to biocontainment and quarantine units. of Nebraska.
Digital stethoscopes were used to listen to the lungs of these patients while supporting the safety and competence of care teams.
“It involves safer collaboration and intervention,” says Shahnaz Banner, clinical program coordinator in the Biocontainment Unit.