Totally tubular: Huntsville Hospital's lab transport system

Published: Jun. 29, 2015 at 8:34 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 26, 2016 at 5:51 PM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Banks use a tube system for their drive-thru branches. Now, Huntsville Hospital is using it for their lab, which is the eighth largest in the country.

This high-tech lab is home to an unusual pneumatic tube transport system. These type of tubes usually work by compressed air or by partial vacuum.

Many hospitals have a computer-controlled pneumatic tube system to deliver drugs, documents and specimens to and from laboratories and nurses' stations.

"The tube system links us back to the hospital," explained lab manager Nichola Marcus. "It's the perfect system to rapidly get patient specimens to us. We can make it to absolutely every area of the hospital, including the Women's and Children's Hospital."

And it's quick - Marcus estimates it takes an average of 126 seconds to send material from the emergency room to the lab.

"This really helps expedite patient care," Marcus said.

Mechanic Stephen Campbell led us through the system.

"This is one-third of a triangle that we have that feeds our 6 buildings that the tube system runs in," he said. "It comes all the way from the Twikenham building, through here, going all the way down to the Women's and Children's building."

By keeping an eye on a board which monitors the system, most of these techs know not only what's coming, but when. They also can prioritize what's the most important. That means they'll have better arrival times than most airports.

That's important for Huntsville Hospital because of the size of this lab.

"The latest statistics we've seen show we are actually the eighth-largest hosptial-based laboratory in the country," Marcus said. "We do probably about 3 million tests a year."

That includes between 7-8,000 specimens a day.

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