Extra protection for healthcare workers doing large-scale Covid-19 tests

A throat swab done with SG SAFE, a transparent booth system that protects healthcare workers from being infected with Covid-19.
A throat swab done with SG SAFE, a transparent booth system that protects healthcare workers from being infected with Covid-19.PHOTO: SGH

SINGAPORE - A transparent and safer booth system was deployed on Thursday (April 16) at nine foreign worker dormitories, where large-scale coronavirus testing is being conducted.

Developed by a team of Singapore General Hospital (SGH) doctors, the system makes it less nerve-wracking and tedious for healthcare workers to perform the high-risk coronavirus swab tests.

The booth is called "Swab Assurance For Everyone" or SG SAFE in short. It is basically a foldable three-panel transparent booth that comes fitted with a pair of biosafety level 3 gloves.

"The volume of swabs that we do is in the hundreds," said Dr Hairil Rizal Abdullah, a senior consultant at SGH's department of anaesthesiology, who mentored the team that developed the system.

"With the traditional way, you have to change the personal protective gear (PPE) in between patients. With this system, the healthcare worker doesn't need to wear PPE, as he is protected behind the booth.

"So, you actually save a lot of PPE."

To perform the test, the healthcare worker sticks his hands into the pair of gloves, cleans the gloves with the alcohol rub that is placed nearby and does the swab.

After that, he disinfects the gloves and cleans the booth with an alcohol wipe before it is the next patient's turn. A swab that used to take 5 minutes can now be done in 2 minutes and 30 seconds.

Swab tests are high-risk procedures, as they are done at close range and the patient could be breathing out infectious droplets. He may also gag and cough and spray droplets.

Earlier, the healthcare worker had to constantly clean his hands. "Can you imagine doing alcohol hand hygiene 100 times a day?" said Dr Hairil. The skin would get flaky and raw.

SGH partnered The Biofactory, a local biomedical incubator, which came up with the $6,000 system in just two weeks. It is being sold at cost price, as their aim is to protect healthcare workers in this coronavirus war.


A throat swab done with SG Shield, a single-use polycarbonate shield. PHOTO: SGH

SGH also designed another device called SG Shield that can be used in wards and clinics where there is no space for a booth system. The shield protects healthcare workers from droplets that patients may cough out during throat swabs.

 
 

These are big droplets and very contagious, if the patient has Covid-19.

The shields give healthcare workers the confidence to carry out swab tests, said Mr Cheong Wai Chye, the assistant director at the Medical Technology Office (MTO) at SingHealth.

SGH has deployed 2,000 such shields.