The Pro

Patient-centric pharmacist

Mr Wu describes himself as a navigator who guides a person on his desired journey of drug treatment.
Mr Wu describes himself as a navigator who guides a person on his desired journey of drug treatment.PHOTO: DIOS VINCOY JR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

The head of the National University Hospital's pharmacy department, Mr Wu Tuck Seng, tells Joyce Teo that he finds meaning in coming up with innovative IT solutions that allow for better patient care

Q I specialise in pharmacy and pharmacy-related IT initiatives because...

A It challenges me to innovate and think outside the box to come up with solutions that provide safe and effective care for the patients I serve. This gives me meaning and purpose.

Q Our mind is fascinating because...

A It can conceive ideas and concepts that we have not considered previously. It is able to digest, analyse, as well as re-orientate information and data to evolve solutions and ideas that are relevant, practical and transformational in content and application.

Q If I were to give an analogy for what I do, I would...

A Be a navigator who guides a person on his desired journey of drug treatment.

  • MR WU TUCK SENG

    Age: 57

    Occupation: Deputy director, department of pharmacy, National University Hospital

    Trained in the United Kingdom, he started his career as a community pharmacist in Malaysia before moving here to be a pharmacist at NUH in 1987.

    "I chose pharmacy because I like science and did well in physics, maths and chemistry in school," he said. "I wanted to apply my scientific knowledge at work to help others."

    Last month, he received the Health Ministry's National Outstanding Clinical Quality Champion Award.

    Health Minister Gan Kim Yong described how Mr Wu's brainchild - an automated system for the outpatient pharmacy - had earned world-class recognition.

    NUH implemented it in 2014.

    Mr Wu also played a vital role in the implementation of another system, which transformed the way medications are prescribed and delivered to patients.

    He is married to pharmacist Rufina Lin, 56. They have no children.

Q I come across all types of cases from...

PROFESSIONAL SATISFACTION

Practising this trade alongside other healthcare professionals fulfils my desire and purpose of helping patients fight diseases so that they can recover and be well. This professional satisfaction is indescribable...

MR WU TUCK SENG, head of NUH's pharmacy department, on his "calling".

A Simple coughs and colds to serious and life-threatening cases that require treatment in the intensive care unit (ICU).

Pharmacists usually provide drug information to doctors and nurses and give advice on how drugs should be prepared and administered. In the ICU, they follow doctors on ward rounds and review medication orders to ensure that they are appropriate and safe.

Q A typical day for me...

A Starts with meetings, where we discuss medication management issues.

I also walk the ground every day to ensure that pharmacy services are carried out appropriately and I oversee the operations of the pharmacy, including the management of staff and feedback from patients.

I also work on quality and safety initiatives that enhance patient safety, and improve staff productivity and workflows.

Q A little-known fact about the NUH pharmacy department is that...

A It helped to implement the closed-loop medication management system, which transformed how medications are ordered, prepared and administered to patients. NUH implemented this electronic system in the wards in 2009.

Under the system, doctors key their orders into an electronic medical records system. Pharmacists will review the electronic orders before the orders are sent to an automated medication cabinet.

Nurses collect the barcoded medication packs from the cabinet. They then scan and match the barcodes on the patient's wristband with the medication. This helps to minimise errors.

Q Patients who get my goat are...

A Those who are inconsiderate, petty and stubborn.

Some patients may insist on being served immediately, even though they have been informed that time is needed to process their prescriptions and that there is a queue. Others are rude, even though we are doing our best to help them.

Q Things that put a smile on my face are...

A Small things like seeing my staff go the extra mile to serve patients, or patients and colleagues from other departments working with our pharmacy team to find a workable solution to a dilemma.

And bigger things like implementing changes to provide more patient-centric pharmacy services and breakthroughs in solving problems or challenges that we had always wanted to overcome.

An example of a breakthrough is the outpatient pharmacy automation system that we implemented in 2014. It enabled the NUH pharmacy department to handle more prescriptions without having to increase manpower.

It also reduced the wait-time for medications by up to 50 per cent. Currently, 95 per cent of our patients wait 20 minutes or less for their medications, as compared to 45 minutes previously.

Q It breaks my heart when...

A We fail to do our best, when excuses are given for not being able to solve a problem, or when we fail to think through an issue tho- roughly, resulting in a bad outcome that could have been prevented.

It also breaks my heart when we fail to appreciate a problem or acknowledge that others can help us in the problem-solving process, and when we come up with short cuts and inadequate solutions.

Q I love patients who are...

A Considerate, as well as those who challenge our team to do our best for them and the healthcare system. This pushes us to improve and accept only the best and nothing else. That is invaluable.

Q I wouldn't trade places for the world because...

A Being a pharmacist is what I dreamt to be and what I am. Practising this trade alongside other healthcare professionals fulfils my desire and purpose of helping patients fight diseases so that they can recover and be well. This professional satisfaction is indescribable and can only be ascribed to a calling.

Q My best tip for patients...

A Is to be patient with our pharmacists and staff as we work to ensure the appropriateness and accuracy of your medication within an acceptable wait-time.

Do tell our pharmacists and staff where they can do better and let them know when they have done well. Patients and pharmacists should work as partners in care.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 20, 2016, with the headline 'Patient-centric pharmacist'. Print Edition | Subscribe