Could wearable technology improve infection control in care homes?

Could wearable technology improve infection control in care homes?
Image supplied by Leeds University

A new trial is to take place in care homes across the UK to see if wearable digital devices can help reduce COVID-19 infections and prevent deaths.

The wearable devices, similar in size to a wrist watch, can register when wearers come into contact with each other, and the data is automatically fed to researchers, who can analyse it quickly and feed back results to care home leaders, enabling care homes to adapt their procedures to improve care home infection control measures.

Residents, staff, and visitors in 32 care homes across the country will wear them. This will be compared to another 32 homes not using the technology to determine whether it is more effective than other contact tracing methods.

Dr Tom Hall, South Tyneside Council’s Director of Public Health, said: “Care homes continue to be one of the settings worst hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Interventions that might reduce the risk to residents and staff in care homes are important to understand and evaluate. We hope this trial will provide ‘real-world’ evidence on a tech-based supplement to traditional contact tracing, that ultimately could be beneficial in our local efforts to reduce the impact of COVID-19.”

Contact tracing in care homes

The £1.6m CONTACT trial has been funded by the National Institute of Health Research and is run by the University of Leeds‘ School of Healthcare, School of Engineering and Institute for Clinical Trials Research, in partnership with the University of Nottingham, data strategy company Microshare Inc, care home providers and local authority public health bodies.

It comes after infection rates of up to 80% and as many as 30,000 deaths were reported in care homes in the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

Lead researcher Carl Thompson, Professor of Applied Health Research at Leeds’ School of Healthcare, said the devices would allow care homes to better manage the risk of infection and consider reopening to outside visits.

“Contact tracing in care homes often starts and finishes at the front door. NHS Test and Trace or local public health team contact tracing can be difficult, expensive, and often results in homes simply being closed to visitors, and residents’ freedoms restricted,” he said.

“The CONTACT trial will test whether wearable digital devices improve contact tracing in care homes, reduces COVID-19 infections and untimely deaths, and provides the possibility of homes opening up to family, community and healthcare professionals.”

Cyd Akrill MBE, Springfield Healthcare Group’s Director of Nursing, said: “This study could significantly improve the quality of life for the people in our care. Safety is of the utmost importance, but the ease and simplicity of the device could be game changing for us.

“To have detailed data to inform our infection, prevention and control allows us to make better informed decisions around visiting –  improving safety and the quality of lives for the people we support.”


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