E-prescriptions, automated process for meds among features at new Punggol Polyclinic

Ilyda Chua, The Straits Times

Punggol residents will soon find a visit to the polyclinic more convenient.   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 be used to collect and package the medications, which will be distributed to patients by pharmacy staff.

The automated pharmacy is among the facilities of the new Punggol Polyclinic, which was opened officially yesterday by labour chief and Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Ng Chee Meng.

The four-storey health institution began operating on Nov 24 last year, and is the 20th polyclinic.

Clinic pharmacy manager Teo Hui Ling said the automated process means medications can be dispensed to patients more quickly and accurately. Automation at the pharmacy will allow it to handle 50 per cent more prescriptions, up to 150 an hour.

It will also reduce the need for manpower significantly, 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 patients 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.

While many new mothers suffer from gestational diabetes - which brings with it an increased risk of having Type 2 diabetes in future - they often do not follow up on this with their doctors, said Dr Ng.

"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. While most babies 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.

Other new facilities at the polyclinic include an eye clinic, which will open on July 30.

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.

For Ms Nur Ziana Abdul Rahman, having a polyclinic a 10-minute drive away from home is a boon.

"I am a new mother, learning and adapting with a four-month-old baby, so distance does play a part... it is not far from my home," said the 30-year-old staff nurse.

In addition to monthly visits for her son's immunisation and follow-up consultations, she uses the dental services at the polyclinic.

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