Robot tech at new Punggol Polyclinic to cut wait time for patients at pharmacy

Punggol Polyclinic, which begun operating last year, features a host of new facilities and services for the community. This includes an automated pharmacy, which makes use of robot technology to help distribute medications to patients more quickly and accurately. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Things are getting more convenient for polyclinic patients in Punggol. Soon, they will no longer have to submit their prescription chits at the pharmacy themselves, as is the practice at most polyclinics.

Instead, prescriptions will be sent electronically and directly from doctors to the pharmacy. Robot technology will then collect and package the medications, which will be distributed to patients by pharmacy staff.

This automated pharmacy is among the facilities of the new Punggol Polyclinic, which was officially opened by labour chief and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Ng Chee Meng on Wednesday (May 23).

The four-storey polyclinic began operating on Nov 24 last year and is Singapore's 20th polyclinic.

The automated process at the pharmacy means medications can be dispensed to patients more quickly and accurately, said clinic pharmacy manager Teo Hui Ling.

Automation at the pharmacy will allow it to handle 50 per cent more prescriptions, up to 150 an hour.

It will also significantly reduce the need for manpower, saving about 180 man-hours a month, Ms Teo added.

The system is now in the process of being rolled out and is expected to be fully operational in July.

Given Punggol's relatively young population, the polyclinic will have a special emphasis on women's and children's health, said clinic director David Ng.

Punggol - known as Singapore's "baby town" - has the highest proportion of children aged five and below in Singapore. Out of the 14,000 attendees at the polyclinic last month, more than 20 per cent used the women's and children's services.

In the light of this, the polyclinic hopes to follow up more closely with new mothers and children, said Dr Ng.

"We find that new mothers, after giving birth - their attention is focused mainly on their children," he said. He added that while many new mothers suffer from gestational diabetes - which brings with it an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in the future - they often do not follow up on this with their doctors.

"This is a concern, because some of them develop diabetes later on in life," he added.

Dr Ng said the polyclinic also hopes to follow up more closely with newborns during their first three years of life - for example, through providing childhood immunisation and follow-up care.

While most babies do get proper immunisation care during the first 18 months, some of them eventually stop going for follow-up visits and get left behind in the system, Dr Ng said.

Other new facilities at the polyclinic include an eye clinic, which will open on July 30. It will offer services for non-complex conditions such as early cataracts and stable glaucoma.

The polyclinic will also house a research centre that focuses on primary care. For example, several projects on patient behaviour and chronic disease management are in the works, said Dr Ng.

New mother Nur Ziana Abdul Rahman said that she appreciates the polyclinic as it is convenient and offers a range of services for her and her infant son.

"I'm a new mother, learning and adapting with a four-month-old baby, so distance does play a part... it's not far from my home," said the 30-year-old staff nurse, who lives about a 10-minute drive away from the polyclinic.

She said that in addition to monthly visits for her baby's immunisation and follow-up consultations, she also uses the dental services at the polyclinic.

Calling the new institution "world class", Mr Ng, who is also an MP for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC, said the polyclinic - which also offers dental, physiotherapy and podiatry services - would bring a lot of convenience to residents.

"It... will not only provide medical facilities for the young, but also for the aged in my community," he added.

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