Numerous Veterans Affairs medical centers may be using faulty temperature screening devices that could miss signs of coronavirus infection among visitors, according to a new report from video surveillance experts released Monday.
Officials at IPVM, a news organization focused on the video surveillance industry, identified at least 12 different temperature screening devices in use at different VA hospitals since the start of the pandemic. In several cases, the devices have been repurposed for that task, and may be several degrees off in their assessment of visitors' body temperatures.
“Many of the devices procured, in particular, the hundreds of fever tablets/kiosks, have serious risks in design and implementation,” the organization wrote in their report. “Worse, IPVM tried for a month to inform and warn the VA of these risks yet has not received any material response.”
At issue is a mixture of different purchasing efforts for the medical equipment at hospitals across the country.
“There was no apparent standardization to the purchase of these medical devices by the VA,” the report states. “Quality ranges from FDA 510(K) cleared at the high-end to low-cost, unreliable tablets using thermopile sensors that … have far inferior resolution to world (fever) screening standards.”
Fever checks have become commonplace at hospitals, federal offices and a host of other locations as a potential indicator of coronavirus infection. IPVM officials said that unreliable temperature devices could mean that “the lives of veterans are endangered.”
VA officials did not respond to IPVM requests for comment on the problem.
In an interview with Military Times on Monday, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said that he has not reviewed the report but is not worried about the potential threat to veterans and hospital staff.
“Remember, we have redundancy in the system,” he said. "We not only have temperature checks, but we ask a series of questions. We do multiple screenings before anybody enters into a facility.
“I certainly haven’t heard of any problems with any of our thermometers out there. We use a variety. Some hospitals, they know your temperature before you even step inside the building, because they have other sensors … I haven’t heard any complaints or any problems with the temperature checks.”
More than 8,000 patients under VA care are currently dealing with active cases of coronavirus. Roughly 630 are inpatients at hospitals across the country. Both figures are up more than 75 percent in the last month.
In response to the initial wave of the coronavirus pandemic, VA leaders partially shuttered services to non-emergency employees and veterans undergoing elective surgeries. In recent months, VA has reversed those moves, re-opening the locations to some visitors.
However, all visitors are advised to call ahead before traveling to a facility, and must submit to a series of medical screenings, including a questionnaire about any potential coronavirus symptoms and on-site checks of individuals' health.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.