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Phone booth-like invention increases COVID-19 testing capacity while conserving PPE

The testing booth will be deployed at M Health Fairview’s drive-up COVID-19 testing sites across the Twin Cities.
Care providers at M Health Fairview Clinic – Oxboro demonstrate COVID-19 testing procedures using a new testing booth designed by the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering.

A phone booth-like invention is helping M Health Fairview primary care providers conserve critical personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies in the fight against COVID-19.

The device, a testing booth designed by staff in the University of Minnesota College of Science and Engineering machine shop, puts an easy-to-clean glass wall between patients and providers. Gloves extending from the booth allow a staff person inside to safely swab patients for COVID-19 without cycling through valuable N95 masks, face shields, isolation gowns or other PPE. The exterior of the booth is cleaned between each visit.

“It’s unreal how much PPE we’re saving,” said Dana Seeker, a medical assistant at M Health Fairview Clinic – Oxboro, where one of the booths has been deployed. “In the past, if I saw 90 patients in a day, that’d be 90 gowns and 180 gloves.”

The booth itself is more than just four walls, a ceiling, and a set of gloves. A mounted fan pushes air through a HEPA filter and into the enclosure, creating a positive-pressure environment that repels outside particulates. M Health Fairview leaders collaborated with the College of Science and Engineering to ensure the booth design met the needs of frontline teams.

“It’s going to make testing so much easier going forward,” Seeker said. “It’s safe for us medical assistants who are swabbing, it’s safe for the patients, and it’s saving so much with the equipment. I’m excited that we have this.”

M Health Fairview teams plan to deploy 12 booths at eight drive-up diagnostic testing sites across the system. Those sites are already conducting a significant number of daily COVID-19 tests, and that volume is expected to increase in the coming weeks. Over time, the booths could allow our system to conserve tens of thousands of gloves and isolation gowns.

PPE supplies – not testing materials – are currently the primary limitation on testing capacity. For this reason, the testing booth’s impact is substantial. Using the booth also cuts down on the amount of time needed to conduct a test. Two tests can be done in the booth for every one done otherwise.

People who suspect they may have COVID-19 should visit, our 24/7 online clinic, for evaluation. If a patient meets the criteria for testing following an online clinical assessment, that person will be able to schedule an appointment at one of our drive-in testing centers. 

An innovation like the testing booth couldn’t have been developed and deployed so quickly without a healthy partnership between the University of Minnesota and our health system. Pairing the university’s research expertise with M Health Fairview’s community reach and clinical focus, allows our care teams to tackle the challenge of COVID-19 with breakthrough care.