Does digital health monitoring build confidence or create concerns?

  • Posted on November 24, 2020
  • Estimated reading time 5 minutes

This article was originally written by Avanade alum Greg Fuller.

There's been an enormous amount of attention and talk focused on remote working due to the worldwide pandemic. The virtual workplace is becoming more the norm than ever before. But what about employees that are not able to perform their duties remotely? These employees are required to work at a physical location to do their job.

Some industries such as construction, manufacturing, maintenance, and mining need employees to come into the plant to assemble automobiles or process the packages. These industries often have a number of blue-collar jobs typically classified as involving manual labor at an hourly wage.

Many of these organizations face the challenge of keeping operations running while helping employees stay as safe as possible on the job. Amazon, for example, said the company has invested more than $800 million in safety measures this year and implemented dozens of new process changes. While a lot has changed, the business goal to get out 18,000 packages during a single shift remains the same.

Lower business risks and keep operations running
Think about the risk businesses run when employees are sick and unable to work. Operations slow down, supply chains are disrupted and productivity declines. Now think about the risk to the employee. Some will be fine while others will face harsh health outcomes, fewer paychecks, and mounting medical bills.

Most adults polled in a recent survey said it should be their employer’s responsibility to make sure their offices are clean and 73% would feel safter if their coworkers had to get a temperature check before entering the workplace. Over half of the employees wanted their employers to make sure workers follow company guidelines for cleanliness and social distancing.

Artificial intelligence helps employees feel better about coming to work
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought the spotlight firmly on employee safety and wellbeing, with 71% companies listing it as their top business priority in a global survey. Ensuring financial stability (47%) and cost optimization (44%) were the other top business priorities.

Many management teams want to help employees stay healthy and are interested in putting in place safety guidelines, like the mandatory wearing of personal protective equipment and social distancing protocols. These guidelines, however, can only go so far, as it takes consistent enforcement to ensure that personnel adhere to them—and compliance teams may already be stretched thin.

Advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) have enabled advanced technologies to emerge with the potential to keep workplaces healthier and safer through such steps and capabilities as safety zoning and thermal imaging.

Here’s what AI in practice can do to support employees’ return to work
Imagine: Prior to reporting to work, employees receive a preventative health screen survey. Questions include have you traveled outside of the country or have contact with anyone suspected or confirmed with COVID-19 in the last 14 days?

Then as employees arrive at their companies, there are high powered infrared thermal cameras to scan and measure body temperature at facility entrances to avoid infected or symptomatic employees entering in the facilities. Elevated skin temperature notifications alert and notify human resources and/or plant management based on the elevated skin temperature scan. These are done with Azure IoT Edge and Microsoft Power Apps. Dashboards and reports using Microsoft Power BI are used to visualize screening results and help interpret findings.

What are the key concerns with health monitoring we need to address?
The collection of data, even for health and safety reasons, raises some ethical concerns. For example, how will the information be used, stored, tracked? And how do we handle employees who may be exhibiting symptoms?

Thermal imaging systems, facial recognition and other software applications that rely on users' health care data can play an important role in slowing the spread of disease, yet they also call for companies to start embedding digital ethics considerations into their organization and processes today. According to an Avanade global AI Maturity research study, 96% of business and technical decision makers find that ensuring "digital ethics by design" is necessary to implement AI, however, only 66% are implementing a digital ethics framework.

At Avanade, we believe the industry already has successful models to follow. When we build technology, we have quality reviews and security testing. We assess risk in the design phase, and we measure compliance before release. Around all these efforts, we have governance structures, metrics, and audits. We need to apply these same robust practices to digital ethics to make sure the advanced technologies we’re implementing take these very important issues into account.

Leveraging technology, process and people to restore worker confidence
From manufacturing to health care, digital health monitoring is generally viewed as the responsibility of the employer. However, no one individual or leader can navigate the COVID-19 pandemic alone. It takes people, process, and technology working together to restore employee and customer confidence.

Digital health monitoring is a technology that allows people to use data to keep individuals working and operations running. Data management processes embedded with governance and policy structures help safeguard the information collected.

Putting in place the people, technology and processes needed won’t slow down progress. Just the opposite. It will help marginalize operational disruption and earn employee confidence. I also believe customers will remember the businesses that put their health concerns first even after the pandemic is over.

Learn how businesses are using 3 practical AI applications to increase productivity, lower costs, and support workplace safety. Check it out.

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