Designing a delivery system? First, know your users

MOVING MEDICAL SUPPLIES and medications is an essential activity in a hospital, and the National Institutes of Health did a lot of upfront planning on the design of the pneumatic transport infrastructure at its new Clinical Research Center (CRC).

'We had a good idea of where stations were needed based on our knowledge of the operations of the hospital,' said Lawrence Eldridge, who helped with the design and installation of the Translogic system from Swisslog USA.

A total of 52 stations for sending and receiving carrier containers are in every patient care unit in addition to clinical and support departments, including housekeeping, transfusion medicine, laboratory medicine, surgical services, central supply, phlebotomy, nuclear medicine, radiology, medical records and the dental clinic.

CRC's 6-inch carrier system replaces a more limited 4-inch system that had been in place for several years.

A good design requires predicting how people will use the system in the future so users will not become frustrated by a system collapsing under its success. 'It took us years to get people to depend on the system,' Eldridge said, and he does not want to jeopardize that success by swamping the system.

Electronics mechanic Benny Taitague said use of pneumatic transport by several large departments has jumped significantly with the new system, and the system had to be ready to accommodate that.

Laboratory medicine, which had one pneumatic station with the old 4-inch system, now has five stations with addresses in five different zones, he said.

The pharmacy, which had one 4- inch station, now uses four 6-inch stations.

Pneumatic transport has become an ingrained part of operations at the CRC, said Jim Wilson, head of facilities management. 'It's like the Internet. They don't know how much they use it until it's down.'

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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