New SGH network delivers samples to labs 'in minutes'

SINGAPORE - A new 20km network of pneumatic tubes links 102 locations within the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) campus, allowing blood samples to be sent to the laboratory for testing in minutes.

The high-tech and potentially life-saving feature is one of many at Academia, a new training and research institute at the Outram Road campus.

The 13-storey, $360 million building with a total floor area of 75,000 sq m will open this Saturday, nine years after initial plans for it were discussed.

Three floors are set aside for educational purposes, such as mock wards and operating theatres. Research facilities occupy seven floors, with laboratories and offices also located in the building.

"The integration of clinical care with biomedical research and medical education means we can bring better outcomes to where it matters most: our patients," said Professor Ivy Ng, group chief executive of SingHealth. The laboratories test patients' samples for diseases, including cancer.

That is where the partly-underground tube network comes into play. It helps to get these samples to the lab faster so that diagnoses can be made quickly in order to help save lives.

Senior consultant pathologist Yeo Chin Pin said that the laboratory she works at used to rely on couriers to deliver samples.

This proved time-consuming, especially considering the 3,000 specimens a day the lab receives. The new system means samples can be sent whenever a doctor pleases.

"To have done that before, we would have needed an army of people," said Dr Yeo. Staff can now send samples any time using the automated tube system, which runs 24 hours a day and became operational in April.

Overall, the SGH pathology department - which consists of a series of labs - handled close to 12 million tests last year.

Researchers will have easier access to tissue samples, too, through the SingHealth Tissue Repository, which has been moved to the building.

It currently stores about 10,000 samples which can be used in research projects such as drug development.

Doctors, nurses and health workers can also practise surgery or learn new techniques in the Academia - such as at its operating theatre, on a "smart" dummy patient that bleeds, breathes and even speaks.

Surgical procedures can be streamed live from the hospital to the Academia's training rooms.

Securing training facilities was sometimes difficult previously, but SGH's head of surgery, Professor London Lucien Ooi, said: "Now we can train any time we want. Better training will mean better doctors."

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