Researchers test wearables for reducing Covid-19 in care homes

  • October 13, 2020
  • Steve Rogerson

The University of Leeds is trialling wearable digital devices in UK care homes to establish whether the technology can help reduce Covid-19 infections and prevent deaths.

Similar in size to a wristwatch, the devices register when wearers come into contact with each other. Residents, staff and visitors in 32 care homes across the country will wear them.

The data are automatically fed to a team of researchers at the University of Leeds, who can analyse them quickly and feed back results to care home leaders. This will be used to identify infection trends, enabling care homes to adapt their procedures to manage infection.

Data will be compared to another 32 homes not using the technology to determine whether this is more effective than other contact tracing methods.

“Care homes continue to be one of the settings worst hit by the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Tom Hall, South Tyneside Council’s director of public health. “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.”

The £1.6m Contact trial has been funded by the National Institute of Health Research and is run by Leeds University’s School of Healthcare, School of Engineering and Institute of Clinical Trials Research, in partnership with the University of Nottingham, data strategy company Microshare, 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 manage the risk of infection better and consider reopening to outside visits.

 “Contact tracing in care homes often starts and finishes at the front door,” he said. “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. The Contact trial will test whether wearable digital devices improve contact tracing in care homes, reduce Covid-19 infections and untimely deaths, and provide the possibility of homes opening up to family, community and healthcare professionals.”

Cyd Akrill, Springfield Healthcare Group’s director of nursing, added: “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.”