Preparing gloves, needles and other items for the operating theatre used to take staff nurse Kathyrine Oliveros half an hour per case.
For complicated heart or brain operations, she could have up to 100 items to search for and check off from a list of several hundred.
But by using new software, she can scan the items using a mobile device in about half the time.
"It makes a big difference for us. We still need to take care of the patient and assist doctors, so the faster I finish, the faster I can have time to assist the patient and take a breather," said Ms Oliveros, 30, who works on two or three cases a day during a typical eight-hour shift at Mount Elizabeth Hospital.
By using technology to let staff check out medical equipment like supermarket produce, the hospital saves 4,640 manpower hours each year. It is rolling out this inventory management system in general wards after it was tested in operating theatres.
Some of the basic processes that don't directly involve the professional skills of nurses or doctors... can be automated and be made more efficient, for example going from a paper environment to a paperless environment.
MINISTER OF STATE FOR MANPOWER TEO SER LUCK, on labour-saving technology.
The system was one of the projects created by staff to improve productivity that Minister of State for Manpower Teo Ser Luck saw on a visit to the hospital yesterday.
With Singapore's greying population, demand for healthcare will keep growing and such innovations help mitigate the shortage of healthcare professionals, he said.
"Some of the basic processes that don't directly involve the professional skills of nurses or doctors... can be automated and be made more efficient, for example going from a paper environment to a paperless environment," he told reporters after a dialogue with hospital staff.
People with logistics, consultancy and other skills can also make a switch to the healthcare industry to bring new expertise and help plug the manpower gaps, he said.
But despite the manpower shortage, Mr Teo said a sudden influx of foreign workers is not ideal.
"You can't have uncontrolled inflow of manpower into the sector, so organisations must figure out other ways to save on man-hours," he said.
Another improvement at Mount Elizabeth Hospital removes the need for nurses to fill in patients' dietary information daily on menu forms, and for diet aides to vet each meal choice to ensure patients are eating right.
Automating the meal-ordering system improved productivity by 16 per cent over the past 11/2 years. By cutting down on wrong orders and keeping better track of patient transfers and discharges, the hospital also cut food wastage by over 4,500kg, it said.
Mount Elizabeth Hospital chief executive Phua Tien Beng said: "In a manpower-lean environment, especially in the healthcare sector, there is an urgent need to focus on upgrading our lower-wage workers in terms of skills, so that with the aid of technology, we can do more with less."