Thermal imaging puts dentists in the picture as they get back to practice
Andrew Roberts introduces an innovative new way of checking patients for COVID-19 symptoms before they enter the practice.
The green light given by the government for dentists to return to practice has brought with it many challenges.
On the face of it, dentists are better placed than many to respond to the current crisis. They have experience with cross-infection controls and the use of PPE.
But the limits which come with the initial stage of the ‘phased approach’ will equally constrain revenues. Well versed they may be, but dentists are acutely aware that the availability and cost of PPE remains a live issue.
Then there’s patient confidence. Recently, Dentistry Online reported that 80% of adults think dentists will ‘have to work hard to reassure patients that their practice is safe and hygienic.’
That finding is as interesting as it is concerning. People are used to seeing dentists and hygienists wearing PPE, albeit not the FFP3 respirators now required for AGP work. They presumably also think dental staff are not going to cut corners in protecting themselves.
Rebuilding patient confidence
So how can they be further reassured?
One answer lies in the use of the latest thermal imaging cameras. They are not designed to detect or diagnose COVID-19, but they can help identify one of its key symptoms – a high temperature.
Powered by artificial intelligence they can automatically scan the foreheads of patients and other visitors before they enter a practice. Within just one second, they will identify anyone carrying a raised body temperature, prompting staff to implement wider safety protocols.
They can gently investigate if there’s a reason a patient is currently carrying a temperature. It could be due to a pre-existing medical condition or perhaps they’ve run to meet their appointment.
Anyone with an unexplained raised body temperature can be politely denied entry or treatment and advised to seek further medical advice.
The accuracy of the temperature reading is clearly important here. The thermal cameras Avoira recommends are the only ones on the market to operate as standard to within +/- 0.5 degrees celsius. This is in line with International Organisation for Standardisation requirement for the use of screening thermographs for human febrile temperature screening.
Putting everyone in the picture
The beauty of this technology is not simply that it can so swiftly and without contact identify someone with a raised body temperature but be seen doing so.
A fixed camera can be coupled to a strategically-placed colour monitor. Staff and visitors can see the technology at work. A colour-screened handled scanner is, somewhat literally, in the face of the visiting patent. Both deliver a highly impactive visual indicator that the practice has adapted to the ‘new normal’.
Indeed, thermal cameras are going to be at the heart of wider society’s new normality. It’s not just airports which are moving swiftly to adopt the technology, but colleges, universities, restaurants, bars, etc.
They are going to be here not just for the current crisis but for the foreseeable future. COVID-19 has been an enormous wake-up call to the dangers and disruption pandemics can cause. Should we face another such crisis, we will at least be better prepared.
As we endure the most trying economic times seen in recent history, the financials add up too. A fixed bullet camera bundle, including monitor, can be leased for less than £80 a month. A handheld scanner comfortably under £40.
That’s no doubt welcome news to practice managers who are currently grappling with how to financially manage the phased return.
It’s easy to see how return on that investment could be swift.
Firstly, there’s the need to restore patient (and staff) confidence as you work towards full practice operations. Last week’s report on Dentistry Online found that one in three adults are set to visit their dentist less frequently once lockdown ends. That’s a big hit.
Secondly – and I don’t need tell dentists this – prevention is better than cure.
If thermal cameras, coupled with wider protocols, can prevent a member of staff catching this dreadful disease, that could prevent other members of that person’s ‘bubble’ needing to self-isolate. The bubble could include some or all the practice team, disrupting or even closing a practice.
The last place any of us want to go is back to square one.