Next-generation 'pandemic-ready' medical centre opens at Tengah Air Base

The Tengah Air Base medical centre will be trialling new technologies.
The Tengah Air Base medical centre will be trialling new technologies.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - A new next-generation Republic of Singapore Air Force medical centre officially opened on Wednesday (Nov 4), pandemic-ready with dedicated isolation rooms and an outdoor swabbing area.

The Tengah Air Base medical centre is also trialling new technologies, including telemedicine and self-service lockers for dispensing medicine, allowing unwell servicemen to receive treatment without being exposed to others.

If successful, these could be rolled out to other SAF medical centres in the future.

Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How, who officiated at the opening ceremony on Wednesday, said the centre incorporates lessons learnt from past pandemics, such as the severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and H1N1.

"As this was built, it so happened that the whole world got hit by Covid-19, so it came in very handy. As a result, they could test out the different concepts and designs, and also further innovate the methods, taking into account the requirements of Covid-19."

Asked how the centre increases SAF's resilience to Covid-19, Mr Heng said that medical services are critical in reducing downtime so that every soldier can be fighting fit for as long as possible.

"A centre such as this, because of the way it is designed and equipped, and personnel trained, greatly enhances our confidence and our ability to take good care of our personnel," he told reporters.

Also at the opening ceremony were Chief of Air Force, Major-General Kelvin Khong, Commander of the Air Power Generation Command, Brigadier-General Ho Yung Peng, Chief Air Force Medical Officer, Colonel (Dr) Benjamin Tan and other senior officers from the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF).

Tengah Air Base hosts the RSAF's fixed-wing and fighter jet operations.

The medical centre, which was conceptualised in 2015, and took about two years for construction, provides primary healthcare for servicemen at the air base, as well as emergency response for those training in the surrounding areas.

Opened in February this year, it is the first pandemic-ready SAF medical centre.

Features to ensure pandemic readiness include having a sheltered driveway to cater for drive-through swabs, and four isolation rooms for those suspected to be infected. Medics are trained to perform swab operations.

Among the other initiatives being trialled include a digital queue management system, where servicemen can book appointments remotely. This should reduce waiting time and crowding at the centre.

Another initiative involves telemedicine, which allows a serviceman to consult an SAF doctor via an approved video conferencing platform. This is mainly for administrative appointments such as medical reviews where a physical examination is not crucial.

Using video analytics and artificial intelligence, a non-invasive method of measuring a serviceman's vital signs, such as heart rate and oxygen saturation, is also being tested.

Called remote photo-plethysmography, this is done through live video footage from a camera-enabled device, and is meant to aid teleconsultations.

Chief Air Force Medical Officer, Col (Dr) Tan, said innovations being tested at the Tengah Air Base medical centre could be implemented at other medical centres across the SAF.

"But as of now, a lot of these are still in the trial stages. So we need to evaluate, continue to troubleshoot, and refine the processes so that eventually when it's scaled up, it's easy scaling up, rather than having every medical centre go through the pains of innovation," he said.

Captain (NS) Keval Singh Mann, 33, who is an operationally-ready national serviceman, said that although he has not tried telemedicine, it could be useful for medical reviews after a serviceman reports sick.

"Being able to possibly do this via telemedicine is really good, because we don't have to queue at the medical centre and the unit can also better utilise our time," added the air warfare officer.