What Enterprises Should Know about Fever Screening as Employees Return to Work Facilities


As regions around the world lift stay-at-home restrictions tied to the pandemic, many enterprises with shared workspaces are considering fever screening. Service providers we talk with are offering fever screening as part of a package of services that include physical distancing and other capabilities to support post-COVID-19 workplace needs. The goal of fever screening is to prevent sick people from sharing contagions with others by assessing whether people have elevated skin temperature (EST) that would indicate a fever. Existing technologies that quickly detect EST claim to be a first line of defense, allowing organizations to pull aside employees and visitors at risk for further assessment before allowing them to enter.

While the potential for fever screening to help get people back to work is alluring, the reality of implementing such a practice is complex and uncertain. Many of the hardware and software solutions claiming to support fever screening have not gone through extensive clinical testing in work and public environments. Specifics at facility entry points present numerous challenges:

  • How does a facility apply the results of fever screening in real time?
  • Will proper equipment usage require a qualified board-certified clinical thermographer or technician? Or can a robot do the job?
  • Do facilities need to provide medical personnel for human-based screening of those flagged by the technologies?
  • Do the human screeners look for other symptoms, and if so, which ones?
  • Do the facilities need to report people with high fevers to a public health authority?
  • How is the collected data processed, retained and secured? Who owns it?
  • What sort of policy changes does a company need to implement these programs?

Much of the technology that supports fever screening involves infrared imaging with artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. Yet thermal cameras are known to be weak in clinical settings because they are error prone and have accuracy ranges that exceed those needed to reliably detect fevers. Body parts vary in temperature, camera angles and distances change results, and many people have natural variance in their body temperatures unrelated to being ill. AI models rely on extensive historical data sets, of which there is little today. The claims from AI vendors about accuracy are at best unproven, despite media coverage of what are likely inflated numbers. Some research studies show a high percentage of false positives. Privacy and civil liberties concerns involving mass screening abound, and privacy guidelines vary by locality.

If the goal is to keep sick people at home, business and government policy is as important as fever screening. Some people who know they have a fever or other symptoms are going to work anyway due to management or peer pressure or because they are paid hourly and have no income if they do not work. Evidence suggests that fever can present at any point between 2-14 days after exposure to COVID-19, but people can be carriers without showing symptoms, including fever.  

Facing these realities and the risks they present should drive both business and government to revise work policies to remove reasons for employees to come to work sick. An outbreak of COVID-19 in a food processing plant is substantially more expensive than a lenient sick-day policy that pays workers to stay home if they are ill. This will need to be implemented with a clear communications plan and organizational change management, which for global enterprises may need to take into account various cultures as well.

Certain industries will need to evaluate whether and how to screen people for their health sooner than others. While the Travel, Hospitality and Sports industries clearly need to help assure safety of their in-person customers as soon as possible, other industries, including manufacturing where workers are proximate to each other, will also need to address this.

Where do fever screening and other health screening tactics fall into enterprise planning? ISG asserts that all companies will need to navigate their way toward three “horizons” over the next 18 or so months while they continue to strengthen business continuity plans, take out unnecessary costs and boost efficiency. Horizon One is where we are now – determining how to recover and resolve changes over the next six months. Responding to the lifting of stay-at-home restrictions falls into this first horizon. Horizon Two is building operational resilience and competitive advantage in the post COVID-19 economy. Horizon Three is preparing for a new future to lay the foundations for future success beyond a year from now. Focusing on these horizons will encourage thinking that is appropriately focused on the need to build more resiliency in how work gets done – what we call an operating model for resiliency.

Enterprises evaluating how to move forward with their workplace plans need to assess how technologies in combination with policy changes can help ease the transition and protect their employees and visitors. Legal departments can advise on local business regulations and laws to consider. Organizations must evaluate the readiness of their facilities. For example, airports already have security screening, so the addition of fever screening would be easier than for a traditional office building. Any evaluation should include the advice of experts, including legal departments, facilities managers, healthcare providers, human resources policy makers and thermographers. Shortcutting evaluations to expedite return-to-office initiatives could lead to unintended consequences and unfortunate results.

ISG can help with the policy development, identification of resources and organizational change needed to adapt your workforce to these changes. Contact us to learn more.


About the author

Alex Bakker

Alex Bakker

Alex leads the Primary Research Team where he focuses on study design, panel research, and interview based research for ISG. In addition to leading the Primary Research practice at ISG, Alex also serves as the lead analyst on provider pursuit effectiveness, and helps IT service providers understand how they can improve performance in the competitive process. 
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