Mount Sinai is using Nest Cams to monitor COVID-19 patients - Here's why

Nest Cameras may typically be found observing driveways, front doors, and yards, but Google and Mount Sinai hospital are putting the cameras to work monitoring COVID-19 patients with a specially-designed control console. The project is being trialed at Mount Sinai in New York, to explore whether affordable connected cameras could help cut down in-person patient checks.

There are several reasons why reducing the number of physical checks are a good thing. For a start, as workloads monitoring coronavirus patents increase, anything that cuts down on the amount of work caregivers are faced with is a positive.

However it also means that hospitals and healthcare centers can avoid using personal protective equipment (PPE) to do those checks. Often, things like masks, gloves, and coveralls need to be replaced after each patient is examined, so as to avoid spreading COVID-19 around different areas of the hospital. That's not only expensive, it also runs into PPE shortages which continue to impact healthcare providers.

Google and Mount Sinai's idea is to use Nest Cams and a custom-developed console from which patients can be monitored. The system began operations with two cameras in each of more than a hundred rooms being used for COVID-19 treatment. Typically, registered nurse Robbie Freeman at the hospital explains, one camera would be focused on the patient, while another is pointed at the displays showing vital signs.

Video is reviewed to the special console, which features a number of displays so that multiple patients can be kept on-screen at any one time. It also allows two-way communication, since the Nest Cameras have integrated microphones and speakers.

Privacy is key

This isn't just off-the-shelf Nest Cameras screwed to the wall, mind. Google is not going to be storing the footage the cameras collect, and in fact won't even have access to it. After all, there are strong HIPAA and other privacy requirements around things like data protection.

Google plans to provide 10,000 Nest Cams and the special console to hospitals around the US.

"At Google Nest, we're putting people first and building technology around their needs, with a focus on creating whole home solutions that are truly helpful," the company says. "We're also committed to keeping our customers' data secure and respecting their privacy. These principles have been central to our work with hospitals during the COVID-19 health crisis, where, in a series of limited trials, our camera products and purpose-built healthcare worker consoles are being utilized to help healthcare providers observe patients more effectively and safely."

Hospitals will need to have an existing WiFi network, as well as an internet connection with consistent bandwidth (10M download/5M upload) and recent tablets or computers for actually monitoring the video. They'll also need a G Suite account.