Brian Wallace

Since my last reporting, I’ve noticed a shift in the post-acute sector relating to how individuals within the industry are being impacted by COVID-19. This novel virus is unlike anything we’ve ever been exposed to before, and in high-risk populations it’s important to detect the virus as quickly as possible. The tallies for casualties spawned by COVID-19 are only rising within nursing homes because of the close quarters and inability to prevent contact with outsiders. It’s important long-term facilities are strategic in their approaches to treatment, and that’s just what they are doing with the careful scrutiny of available data to find COVID-19 sooner.

Data abounds in these settings, but sometimes it takes visualization of this data to really understand which data points are most meaningful. I’ve been in the business of infographics for 11+ years, helping those who are unclear on a given industry’s modulation connect the dots. Sometimes an infographic is the best medium to help readers connect the dots and make sense of data points.

How visuals help tell the story

There is a lot of data out there in post-acute care and hospital settings, and cutting through the noise to reveal the narrative isn’t always easy. When we started trying to suss out the important data from what was available, what we knew was that as of April 24, 2020, nearly 10,000 coronavirus deaths in the United States have been linked to nursing home residents or caregivers. What we also knew at that point was that without a vaccine or cure, early detection and prevention were crucial.

There are a lot of reasons why senior citizens have the highest-risk of COVID-19 contraction and complications. Those living and working in long-term care facilities face an even higher risk of contraction because of close quarters. Many senior care facilities are on lockdown, though workers can still come and go, potentially bringing the virus in with them.

Currently, routine temperature checks are the norm for detecting potential COVID-19 infections in nursing homes. However, those infected could be asymptomatic carriers for weeks before a fever is detected, so this isn’t the best way to prevent the spread. It’s critical we shift to new protocols for detecting warning signs of residents and workers carrying the Coronavirus based on all available information.

Relying on temperature checks can delay detection. That’s where data from Megadata’s nursing home dashboard has proven so helpful — data from multiple nursing homes has been able to show a correlation between pulse oxygen levels and COVID-19 infections up to two weeks before a patient spikes the first fever.

Cutting through the noise with Megadata

Using the Pulse Oximeter to measure every patient’s oxygen levels twice a day shows the underlying problems before patients fully, outwardly present COVID-19 symptoms in a nursing home setting. 

“Following a hypothesis that low oxygen levels may be an early indicator, we proceeded to study the oxygen data and found that it’s an excellent early indicator in most cases, as much as two weeks earlier than other symptoms,” says Shalom Reinman, founder and CEO of Megadata. “We’re talking to chief clinical officers and they see this on the ground anecdotally but are not able to roll it up as a high-level data story that predicts outbreaks.”

This discovery has the potential to change the way nursing homes protect their patients for the duration of the pandemic.

“We are already producing reports for our clients showing them buildings that are experiencing early outbreak signs before our clients are detecting outbreaks on the ground,” Reinman says.

This information is being carefully and continually studied to give clinicians the most up-to-date, actionable information.

“The data clearly shows early signs of outbreaks,” says Reinman. “The clinicians on the ground agree that this will work and are excited about it. We are working to have the study peer-reviewed but in the interim we are already operationalizing the data as every second counts in saving lives.”

Time will tell whether this discovery ends up saving lives, but it is already showing a great deal of promise.

Sometimes when we use data to tell a story we end up finding an even more important story. In this case, the data uncovered has the potential to save lives as the pandemic rages on.

Brian Wallace is the founder and president of NowSourcing, an industry leading infographic design agency based in Louisville, KY, and Cincinnati, OH, which works with companies that range from startups to Fortune 500s. Brian also runs #LinkedInLocal events nationwide, and hosts the Next Action Podcast. Brian has been named a Google Small Business Advisor for 2016-present and joined the SXSW Advisory Board in 2019.