NUHS harnesses tech to help manage hospital facilities

Robots and drones will take on roles such as SafeEntry, temperature taking and surveillance. They can also deny entrance to visitors who do not comply with social distancing measures.
Equipped with high-resolution cameras, drones are used to scan the hospital buildings' exterior and can capture live footage of hard-to-reach areas such as roof gutters, and detect water ponding on rooftops.
Equipped with high-resolution cameras, drones are used to scan the hospital buildings' exterior and can capture live footage of hard-to-reach areas such as roof gutters, and detect water ponding on rooftops.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

As you walk through the doors of Ng Teng Fong General Hospital (NTFGH) next month, a robot will scan your SafeEntry check-in and record your temperature.

The security and concierge robot will also detect visitors and patients who are not wearing masks or following social distancing rules, and deny these non-compliant visitors entry.

The robot will be deployed at NTFGH from next month, and it will also be in action at Alexandra Hospital from November.

Around the same time, the National University Hospital will have a roving security robot that can identify suspicious activities such as crowding and people lurking in restricted areas.

The three hospitals are part of the public healthcare cluster under the National University Health System (NUHS).

NUHS said robots, drones and touch-free technologies will become the new normal. The shift to technology-based solutions comes as the hospitals seek to minimise labour-intensive operations and move to a more efficient, safer and productive way to manage its facilities. This will not only save time but also slice costs by at least 50 per cent in each hospital, NUHS said.

"We are not using technology to replace our colleagues at the NUHS Group Facility Management Team," said Mr Ng Kian Swan, the chief operating officer of NUHS.

"Instead, the technologies will be used to support them in their work and give them the opportunity to reskill and upskill."

Some staff are learning on the job as they work with Internet of Things sensors, for instance, and others have been sent for courses to learn how to fly drones, added Mr Ng.

With the bots on the front line patrolling and observing, security officers can focus on value-adding duties such as using video analytics to review footage that the robots send in. Drones are already being used to scan the buildings' exterior, to look out for hazards and areas that need maintenance work.

NUHS is the first organisation in the local healthcare scene to use drones to inspect hospitals. Armed with high-resolution cameras, the drones can capture live footage of hard-to-reach areas such as roof gutters, and detect water ponding on rooftops, a potential breeding ground for Aedes mosquitoes.

 
 

Previously, gondolas - manned and moved by workers - were used to inspect building facades. Workers were also exposed to danger when scaling ladders and by walking on ledges and weak roofs.

To prevent transmission of bacteria and viruses, the three hospitals will install touch-free buttons in lifts that patients and visitors frequently use, by next year. To pilot this, some lifts at NTFGH's Tower B have been installed with touch-free buttons.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 25, 2020, with the headline 'NUHS harnesses tech to help manage hospital facilities'. Print Edition | Subscribe