Friday, October 25, 2013

invisible tubes

It is amazing how well pneumatic tube systems can be camouflaged: they are the embossed wallpaper of hospital ceilings and walls, there only if you look for them. I have spent three and a half months now in a hospital in Melbourne doing fieldwork about listening and sounds in medicine (see more details here). It seems I have had my ears out more than my eyes! For it has only be recently that I've spotted evidence of the hospitals' pneumatic tube system, in the emergency department.

A few emails later and I am being taken on a tour of the system by Scott, Operations Manager in the Pathology department. Scott takes me into the central pathology lab first, the hub of the system, where specimens are delivered and processed. As we talk a few capsules come flying in from ED. That is one point-to-point track in the system, the other heading to ICU and the private hospital. Someone is there nearby to organise the capsules, empty their contents and send back the tubes to where they came from. This system is all about pathology - no medical records or pharmaceutical items are transported.

The tour continues and we visit the plant room, walk corridors with tubes overhead, and visit the outpatients' department and the haematology department. In the haematology department, blood products, requests, visitors and capsules whizz by. As a trauma hospital, this lab works 24/7, the capsules arriving day and night, needing urgent attention. The outpatients' pathology department is less frenetic but no less busy - as many as 150 - 200 blood samples can be taken here a day.

We walk back to Scott's office and talk over some plans for future pneumatic tube systems in the new pathology department in the hospital, and the challenges of integrating systems from different hospitals, some quite some distance away. The plans are at the concept phase, the system one of possibility at the moment. I leave the pathology department and follow the corridors back to the main entrance. This time the sounds I pay attention to are not the coughs and beeps, but rather the rumble of pneumatic tube capsules overhead.

Photos are my own.


  1. What an interesting post. I definitely would agree that pneumatic delivery systems are very well disguised. After reading this I actually started looking for our system at work the next day. That really is something that really can take some time to be able to locate. Thank you for taking the time to share.

  2. Do they still use pneumatic tubes in hospitals and other places. The only businesses I know that use them for sure would be banks. I think they are a pretty clever invention and we should really be using them a lot more. I watched a video the other day about what it looks like to be inside one of the tubes. It was interesting because they used a GoPro and sent it through the tube. It was really amazing how the whole device actually works.