Treating Ebola: The Bluetooth Method


Story by Melissa Pandika

Before they set a toe into the concrete-walled isolation room, the doctors and nurses become fortresses unto themselves: face shields, of course, but respirators, too, plus three layers of gloves on each hand, duct-taped to their sleeves. Nurses watch over a webcam to keep them on protocol, and Bluetooth stethoscopes relay heart data directly to a remote location—no ear canal exposure required.

Call it the no-touch approach to medicine. And it’s the little-heralded reason that a hospital in Nebraska, of all places, has emerged as a leader in the stateside fight against Ebola. Already, it’s brought two Ebola patients to recovery and prevented transmission to health care providers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has held up the hospital as a model for others.

All around the world, of course, the health care workers who’ve been treating the terrifying disease avoid skin-to-skin contact with patients and use a battery of protective equipment, like gloves and air-filtering PAPR suits. But Nebraska Medicine, near downtown Omaha, has taken protection to a whole new frontier—and into the slightly eerie field of hands-free medicine. If successful, the approach could have implications for medical practice, even beyond Ebola, especially as the burgeoning field of telehealth takes off. (The U.S. telehealth market could grow more than 50 percent annually through 2018, Forbes reports.)

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