Coronavirus: SGH doctors come up with safer, quicker ways for large-scale testing

Throat swabs being done with SG Safe (left), a transparent booth system, and SG Shield, which gives healthcare workers added protection. PHOTOS: SGH
Throat swabs being done with SG Safe (above), a transparent booth system, and SG Shield, which gives healthcare workers added protection. PHOTOS: SGH
Throat swabs being done with SG Safe (left), a transparent booth system, and SG Shield, which gives healthcare workers added protection. PHOTOS: SGH
Throat swabs being done with SG Safe, a transparent booth system, and SG Shield (above), which gives healthcare workers added protection. PHOTOS: SGH

A transparent and safer booth system has been deployed at 11 foreign worker dormitories as of yesterday, where large-scale coronavirus testing is being conducted.

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

The booth is called "Swab Assurance For Everyone" or SG Safe for 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. With the traditional way, you have to change the personal protective gear 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," said Dr Hairil Rizal Abdullah, a senior consultant at SGH's department of anaesthesiology, who mentored the team that developed the system. PPE refers to personal protective equipment.

To perform the test, the healthcare worker sticks her hands into the pair of gloves, cleans the gloves with the alcohol rub that is placed nearby and does the swab. After that, she 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 five minutes can now be done in two minutes and 30 seconds - just half the time.

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.

Before, the healthcare worker had to constantly clean her 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 war.

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

SGH has deployed 2,000 such shields.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 18, 2020, with the headline Coronavirus: SGH doctors come up with safer, quicker ways for large-scale testing. Subscribe