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Thermometer gives results at a distance

A thermometer that uses infrared for non-contact readings proves useful, says Dr Peter Standing.

The Thermofocus is, the manufacturers say, the world's first non-contact thermometer.

It measures temperature with an infrared beam shone on to the forehead, will display results within seconds on an LCD screen, and can take further readings straight away.

One advantage of the device over thermometers positioned in the external auditory meatus or mouth is that it doesn't require disposable covers.

Parents can check for paediatric fevers without disturbing their child and nurses can knock a few seconds off the temperature ward round.

The Thermofocus is powered by four AAA batteries, which should last for three years or 10,000 readings.

An internal memory stores the last nine readings, so it could potentially be used to monitor the progress of a febrile illness.

Easy to use
At 92g, the Thermofocus is small and easy to use. After switching on, simply lift the protective cap to uncover the infrared sensor, hold the 'on' button down and aim the infrared beam at the forehead.

Move the thermometer closer or further away from the skin until the two red beams converge to achieve the correct distance. This is around 2cm from the skin.

Once the beam is focused, release the 'on' button and the temperature will appear on the display.

Although intended for reading human body temperatures, the Thermofocus can also be used on animals. Other applications include checking that a bottle of baby's milk is not too hot, measuring the temperature of inflamed wounds and taking meteorological observations out of doors.

Accuracy
The Thermofocus is guaranteed to be accurate to within 0.2degC in the range of 16-40degC.

When I tested it, it also recorded an outside temperature of 6.3degC, matching the readings of two external probe sensing thermometers.

For measuring body temperature, results are displayed as 'oral' because the Thermofocus adjusts readings to correlate roughly with oral temperatures.

Alternatively the device can be set to 'rectal' which is 0.6degC higher than oral.

After a month testing the Thermofocus in my surgery, the benefits of the instrument won me over.

The only flaws I discovered were minor, and related to a flimsily designed battery cover and an instruction manual for which the English had been poorly translated from the original Italian.

In practice
Any residual reservations were probably due to scepticism about the need for a thermometer at all, rather than any specific deficiencies of the Thermofocus.

Stephen Clarke's 1992 BMJ paper, 'The Use of Thermometers in General Practice', confirmed that a sizeable minority of doctors place more value on careful clinical observation and placing a hand on the forehead than on thermometer readings.

The advent of non-contact thermometers might in time change this clinical practice, but how quickly will depend on perceived benefit-to-cost ratios.

And at around £70 (excluding VAT), the device may seem expensive, however, its running expenses are much lower than for a contact clinical thermometer.

Dr Standing is a GP at the Minden Medical Centre, Bury, Lancashire

Equipment supplied by Williams Medical Supplies

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