Written by Emily Cheslock

Earlier this year, the Texas Hospital Association’s Center for Technology Innovation entered into an agreement with care.ai, an innovative vendor in the artificial intelligence domain. Care.ai has gained national attention for their work leveraging AI to build a unique autonomous patient monitoring system. Built on a proprietary video inference dictionary, the care.ai autonomous monitoring solution provides hospital clinical staff with insights about their patients, staff and business operations.

The care.ai solution supplements the traditional care-team model with a “virtual” care-team member –who can monitor patients and activities in the patient room, 24/7. The solution can monitor patient movement, body temperature and more. Care team members can be alerted if an at-risk patient is attempting to get out of bed. The solution also helps hospital staff to comply with hygiene and patient safety protocols like hand-washing. The care.ai virtual care team members monitors activity in the patient room leading to a higher level of personalized care.

Fernando Martinez

“Effectively, what care.ai did is build an artificial intelligence solution that becomes a virtual, 24-hours per day, care team member. Any hospital that adopts this technology is essentially adding another employee that is on-duty 24/7,” said Fernando Martinez, Ph.D., senior vice president and chief strategy officer at THA.

The devices use facial recognition to alert care team members if staff inadvertently fail to wash their hands and maintains accurate logs of in-room activity. It will track how long a caregiver spends with the patient and what they do while in the room with them. Care.ai’s machine learning capabilities include first-of-its-kind AI algorithm to naturally identify strengths and expose gaps in workflows and partner with caregivers to improve accuracy, efficacy and efficiency,” according to a press release from care.ai.

Everything was moving along smoothly for implementation in select Texas hospitals later this year, then COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. THA and engineers at care.ai were quick to re-purpose the technology.

“The question we asked ourselves was, ‘can we repurpose this technology to create thermal readers?’, this in response to the challenge hospitals are facing by having to obtain everyone’s temperature when they come in,” said Martinez. The result is a tablet device with the same camera and AI technology, which can be deployed at hospital entrances to read the temperature of patients, guests and staff entering the hospital.

In a matter of weeks, the team at care.ai transformed the cameras, antennas and other hardware from the original hardware into a free-standing tablet that can be wall-mounted or deployed on stands. The thermal camera can screen temperatures of patients, visitors and hospital staff upon entry to the hospital.

“As soon as the devices came off the production line, care.ai allocated several units to THA so that one of our members could evaluate the devices in real-time,” said Martinez.

Jayne Pope

Jayne Pope, CEO at Hill Country Memorial in Fredericksburg, embraced the concept and directed agreed to deploy the devices at her hospital. It was an immediate success, said Martinez.

Hill Country Memorial Hospital, an 84-bed hospital in Fredericksburg, became the first hospital in Texas to use the care.ai thermal temperature readers. Rush Medical Center in Chicago and Tampa General Hospital in Florida have also deployed the devices with great success. Several other hospitals across Texas and the U.S. are planning to implement the thermal readers as well. “Having a thermal reader with an artificial intelligence engine behind it has an enormous amount of value for hospitals. Even after COVID-19 passes, the technology will be of great value to hospitals,” said Martinez.

In Fredericksburg, the thermal readers are hard at work at three hospital entrances – the main registration door, the loading dock and the physicians’ entry. The devices sit on a stand inside the entrance. Individuals walk up to the monitor, which detects any presence within an 18 to 20-inch range, then virtual guide shows individuals where to stand for optimal scanning. Within one second, it will scan the body temperature. There is no person-to-person contact required, which eliminates the chances of virus transmission and frees up hospital staff members to work on other tasks.

“This new technology enables Hill Country Memorial to deliver on our mission statement to provide remarkable healthcare to the community while protecting patients and staff,” said Jayne Pope, CEO of Hill Country Memorial.

images of medical staff using the care-ai thermal reader

Having a thermal reader with an autonomous engine behind it has more benefits than just helping to eliminate the spread of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. Once the thermal reader scans an individual, the facial image can be stored so that the individual can be recognized later. Employees only have to be identified once, saving time as they are screening temperatures at shift changes. The thermal readers have two-way communication capabilities which notify the person scanned to either proceed or when there is an abnormal reading, instructions to wait for assistance.

“Hill Country Memorial is always looking to provide the best care to the community. When we find appropriate technology that will enhance patient care and makes sense, that is what we are going to do. It’s not just adding technology for technology’s sake,” said Pope.

Given the positive member feedback from the initial deployment of the thermal readers at Hill Country Memorial, THA will be extending availability to all THA members by the end of April.

The mission of the THA Center for Technology Innovation is to advance nascent technologies that address challenges not sufficiently being managed by the current solutions in the market. For more information visit: www.tha.org/THA-Foundation/Center-for-Technology-Innovation