Fast-tracking patient care at 27 kilometres an hour

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Our Stories

Fast-tracking patient care at 27 kilometres an hour

Toronto, January 22, 2016

By Kate Manicom

the hospital’s pneumatic tube system
Approximately 1,800 items are transported through the hospital’s pneumatic tube system daily. Maurice Rotsaert, a supervisor for Mechanical Engineering and Plant Services, inserts a canister into the system. (Photo by Katie Cooper)

Behind St. Michael’s walls is a hidden network of tubes where lab samples, medications and documents travel at speeds of up to 7.5 metres a second. Connecting the entire hospital, the pneumatic tube system propels cylindrical canisters by a combination of air pressure and vacuum, and delivers crucial items to their destinations rapidly, unobstructed by heavy foot traffic or elevator delays.

Every part of the hospital is linked, including the pharmacy, labs and each nursing station. With the exception of items such as hazardous materials, narcotics, pathology specimens and blood transfusions, almost anything weighing less than seven pounds can be transported by the tubes. And with an average travel time of three minutes, the system is vital to providing patient care efficiently and helping to accelerate decision-making.

One of the highest users is the hospital’s pharmacy. Peter Davies, manager of Pharmacy Technical Operations, said his department uses the system continuously.

“The pharmacy sends literally hundreds of doses by the tubes throughout the hospital every day,” said Davies. “In the dispensing process, the slowest step is getting medication from the pharmacy to clinical staff on the units. The system helps clinical staff to administer medication in the most efficient way possible.”

The hospital’s laboratories also use the tubes consistently, typically receiving a specimen every five minutes, with the highest volumes from the Emergency Department and the intensive care units. Shane Buchanan, manager of Hematology and Specimen Management in the Department of Laboratory Medicine, sees the system as an integral part of patient care.

“The system helps clinical staff to administer medication in the most efficient way possible.”
– Peter Davies, manager of Pharmacy Technical Operations

“When the labs can receive specimens almost as soon as they are collected we’re able to provide timely results for patients who need them most and provide a measurable impact on patient care,” said Buchanan.

In early 2016, the entire pneumatic tube system will be upgraded as part of St. Michael’s 3.0 infrastructure projects. The system, retrofit in 2010, will have new stations in the Medical Device Reprocessing Unit, Logistics and Medical Records, and relocated stations in the Emergency Department to reduce traveling distances for staff. It will also be expanded into the Peter Gilgan Patient Care Tower and the renovated ambulatory clinics on the upper floors of Donnelly Wing.

About St. Michael's Hospital

St. Michael’s Hospital provides compassionate care to all who enter its doors. The hospital also provides outstanding medical education to future health care professionals in 27 academic disciplines. Critical care and trauma, heart disease, neurosurgery, diabetes, cancer care, care of the homeless and global health are among the hospital’s recognized areas of expertise. Through the Keenan Research Centre and the Li Ka Shing International Healthcare Education Centre, which make up the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, research and education at St. Michael's Hospital are recognized and make an impact around the world. Founded in 1892, the hospital is fully affiliated with the University of Toronto.

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