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Walkie talkies to aid health care workers’ compliance with personal protective equipment in the fight against COVID-19

Dear Editor

The recent article by Houghton et al. in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews highlighted some key limitations associated with health care workers’ compliance with infection prevention and control (IPC) guidelines [1]. Addressing barriers highlighted by this review is crucial to keep healthcare workers and patients safe during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.

They identify that the practicalities of donning and doffing personal protective equipment (PPE) are a barrier to adherence. They recognise this process as time-consuming and detrimental to healthcare workers’ health [1]. However, we wanted to draw the readers’ attention to another barrier created by PPE. Whilst wearing full PPE, communication between COVID and non-COVID designated areas becomes a challenge [2]. Firstly, phones and pagers are difficult to access or cannot be used due to contamination risk. Secondly, staff must remove PPE when moving from one clinical area to another. This both delays communication and serves as an additional drain on precious PPE resources [1].

What can be done? One approach is to use walkie talkies. Liew et al. draw attention to their use in Singapore [3]. They provide a quick, resource-efficient and effective means of communicating and may provide a solution. At our charity, Asthma Innovation Research (AIR), we recognised the potential of walkie talkies through the team’s personal experience and have subsequently supplied over 75 hospitals across the UK. Nevertheless, while they have several attributes that make them suitable for use during the current pandemic, there are limitations that must be acknowledged and addressed (Tables 1 and 2). For example, one of the most attractive advantages is also the biggest shortcoming: Commercially available walkie talkies are licence-free and are not dependent on pre-existing telecommunication infrastructure. Therefore, they can be rapidly deployed with no additional costs and allow for timely integration into practice. However, this makes them vulnerable to data breach as the channel may be disrupted by non-health care professionals. Thankfully, awareness of this issue and proactive mitigation can significantly reduce this risk (Table 2). Although walkie talkies may not be a perfect system, they provide a much needed immediate solution. However, preparations for further pandemics should be made, addressing these limitations (Table 2).

Table 1 Advantages and disadvantages of walkie talkie use in health care settings
Table 2 Current and future solutions to key disadvantages of walkie talkie use in health care settings

Adherence to correct IPC guidance is crucially important during the current pandemic, in addition to effective communication. Walkie talkies are a potential method of enabling timely, coordinated and safe care for patients, while also protecting patients and staff.

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  1. Houghton C, Meskell P, Delaney H, Smalle M, Glenton C, Booth A, Chan XHS, Devane D, Biesty LM. Barriers and facilitators to healthcare workers’ adherence with infection prevention and control (IPC) guidelines for respiratory infectious diseases: a rapid qualitative evidence synthesis. Cochrane Database of Syst Rev. 2020;4(4):CD013582.

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  2. Liew MF, Siow WT, MacLaren G, See KC. Preparing for COVID-19: early experience from an intensive care unit in Singapore. Crit Care. 2020;24(1):83.

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  3. Sevastru S, Curtis S, Emanuel Kole L, Nadarajah P. Failure modes and effect analysis to develop transfer protocols in the management of COVID-19 patients [published online ahead of print, 2020 Apr 27]. Br J Anaesth. 2020;S0007-0912(20):30270–1.

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DF drafted and conceptualised the main letter. JC, JK and LE re-drafted and proof-read contents of the letter and table. SB and RC proof-read the contents of the letter and table. The authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Dominic Fenn.

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Fenn, D., Coppel, J., Kearney, J. et al. Walkie talkies to aid health care workers’ compliance with personal protective equipment in the fight against COVID-19. Crit Care 24, 424 (2020).

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