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Hospitals are using special protective booths to test patients for coronavirus

With the help of Mass. General medical assistant Stephanie Mangone, Dr. Joseph Joyner demonstrated how to administer a COVID-19 test using the new "Personal Protective Booth" set up outside of MGH's Chelsea HealthCare Center.
With the help of Mass. General medical assistant Stephanie Mangone, Dr. Joseph Joyner demonstrated how to administer a COVID-19 test using the new "Personal Protective Booth" set up outside of MGH's Chelsea HealthCare Center.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

After attending to COVID-19 patients at Massachusetts General Hospital’s intensive care unit Tuesday evening, Dr. Paul Currier set down his stethoscope and picked up some power tools.

Director of the Respiratory Acute Care Unit at Mass. General, Currier is part of a team of doctors, designers, and engineers called to action to develop and produce protective safety barriers to be used at hospitals throughout the Partners HealthCare system.

The purpose of what they’re calling “Personal Protective Booths” is threefold: keep health care workers and patients safe from contracting or transmitting the coronavirus; expand testing and treatment times; and preserve personal protective equipment likes gowns, face shields, and masks.

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On that particular night, following his shift, Currier and others were fastening into place the last few pieces of one of three different models of booths they’ve developed in recent weeks, getting it ready for deployment at the hospital’s emergency department.

It had been a long day on the front lines, like many others before it. But assembling some of the equipment has become a reliable bright spot during “ups and downs in terms of taking care of patients,” Currier said.

“It’s been nice,” he said, “to actually see something where you actually build it, and it’s real, and it’s making a difference.”

The idea for the booths — or PPBs — was inspired by the “phone booths” developed and used by health professionals in South Korea.

Dr. Joseph Joyner put on a second set of gloves as he demonstrated how the new "Personal Protective Booth" would be used at MGH's Chelsea HealthCare Center.
Dr. Joseph Joyner put on a second set of gloves as he demonstrated how the new "Personal Protective Booth" would be used at MGH's Chelsea HealthCare Center. Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

“It’s really fascinating how it came to be,” said Dr. Kristian Olson, the project’s co-lead and director of the Mass. General Springboard Studio, a group that leans on patients, providers, and staff to come up with innovative ways to improve health care.

Last month, Dr. Anne Klibanski, president and chief executive of Partners HealthCare, e-mailed a YouTube video of the booths to Dr. Gregg Meyer, chief clinical officer at the company.

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Because he was familiar with the work his team has done in the past, Meyer, in turn, e-mailed Olson.

“Would this actually be useful, and how long would it take to put together [?]” Meyer wrote. “I am reaching out to you because you are the only person I know who can make an infant incubator out of a Toyota Land Cruiser.”

Olson and the Springboard Studio immediately accepted the challenge. The studio banded together with an outside medical design and engineering company called Healthcare Innovation Partners to create the first device. Both Olson and Currier are minority partners in that company.

With assistance from the Mass. General Brigham Center for COVID Innovation, which was formed to find ways to flatten the COVID-19 curve as the crisis came to light, the booth — which they later dubbed the “Hexapod” — was being used at Newton-Wellesley Hospital within just days.

The Hexapod allows care providers to step inside of it so they’re separated from patients while swabbing them to test for COVID-19. The latest iteration has three sets of gloved portholes to speed up the amount of testing being done. And because the positive-pressure booth has a HEPA air filtration system as well as a physical barrier, there’s no need for staff to wear certain protective equipment, thus reserving supplies for others.

The team behind the first booth was able to significantly improve on its initial design based on feedback from those who were going to be using it on patients, Olson said.

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“[The] people with the best solutions are the ones who are closest to the challenge,” he said.

The response and discussions with hospital workers eventually led to two other booths being created, not long after the release of the Hexapod.

There’s the "Oasis,” a negative-pressure booth that a patient steps into while health care workers attend to them from the outside; and the “Edele,” a single-barrier wall with glove ports that can be used during the triage process, like in an emergency room.

The initial Hexapod installed at Newton-Wellesley Hospital was eventually sent to Mass. General’s Chelsea HealthCare Center, where residents in that community have been particularly hard-hit by the virus. The center is getting additional equipment this week to help ramp up testing.

There are now also booths at Mass. General’s Lunder Building ambulance bay. By Friday, there will be seven booths in use at various hospital locations, with the hope of expanding.

Separate but similar protective barriers are also in use at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. They were built independently by a team there after resident physician Dr. Sherry Yu saw designs out of South Korea, according to CBS Boston.

For Olson and Currier, seeing the booths they’ve helped develop actually being used in the field so quickly has been an inspiring moment during an uncertain time.

“Having this group of people working together was the only way it was able to happen as fast as it did," Currier said of the team’s efforts. “It’s been a really interesting process in terms of the rapid innovation."

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The PPBs are designed to better protect both patients and caregivers by separating them, and are intended to limit the use of extra personal protective equipment.
The PPBs are designed to better protect both patients and caregivers by separating them, and are intended to limit the use of extra personal protective equipment.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.