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The University of Michigan Hospital will be expanding its pneumatic tube system across its campus after being approved at the Sept. 22 Board of Regents meeting. The project has an estimated cost of $6.5 million and is expected to be finished in spring 2024.

The pneumatic tubes within Michigan Medicine are a network of highly-compressed air ducts that allow the hospital to transport specimens, such as blood and urine samples, through the pneumatic tube system to the laboratory. 

Scott Marquette, associate chief operating officer of Michigan Medicine, said pneumatic tubes increase efficiency because healthcare workers are able to transmit information across the long distances between the buildings on the medical campus.

“(The pneumatic tube system) is kind of like a train system that’s built within our building,” Marquette said. “So you can send one train from one clinic to the central lab and from the central lab to the inpatient area … It allows us to more efficiently deliver care across an expansive campus very quickly.”

Kristina Martin, clinical pathology operations director for Michigan Medicine, explained that the pneumatic tube system connects multiple health centers, such as the main hospital, the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, the Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital and other buildings on the medical campus. 

“In the laboratory, we can also use the pneumatic tube system to send blood products,” Martin said. “So patients who need transfusions … we actually pack (the blood products) into the pneumatic tube and get those sent out.”

Martin also said the system allows more urgent samples to move quicker through the tubes by using alternate “passing lanes” that bypass routine samples.

Martin said an average of 300 items are processed through the tube system each hour in the clinical pathology laboratory alone. Additionally, the majority of transactions have a travel time of five minutes or less. Martin added that while the laboratory receives the greatest volume of items from the tube system, it is also used to move medications and supplies.

The process of updating the pneumatic tube system will cause some disruptions, but Martin said she anticipates them to be brief and unnoticeable to patients, in accordance with  staff goals. 

According to Marquette, the primary reason for the expansion of the pneumatic tube system is the need to connect existing infrastructure to the new Pavilion hospital, the new 12-story Michigan Medicine hospital set to open for patient care in fall of 2025. The new facility will provide additional patient beds, operating rooms and family spaces. 

Medical School student Nathan Graham said he finds the pneumatic tube system to be useful and that he understands the need for a new hospital, given the extent of crowding at current sites.

“I’ve seen it in action during rotations, and it seems like an efficient way to dispense medications to the other side of the hospital,” Graham said. “During my pediatric urology rotation, there were instances where patients who should have been admitted were kept in the emergency room waiting area overnight, rather than staying in their own rooms. So it’s nice if we’re expanding to add more space.”

Marquette said the Pavilion will need to be connected to the rest of the system via the pneumatic tube.

“It’s a matter of building that new substation and then also creating the linkage between what will be the new hospital and what’s the existing hospital,” Marquette said. 

The project will also give the University the opportunity to update the current system. According to Martin, every time the University extends the tube system to another building, they have the chance to change the tube routes and make them even more efficient. 

“I’ve been (at Michigan Medicine) since 2007, so I’ve seen multiple upgrades to the system,” Martin said. “Every time we have these upgrades we get better and better with being able to detect and see where things are going.”

Medical School student Piroz Bahar agreed that expansion and updates will be beneficial to the hospital system as a whole.

“I think it’s awesome that they’re (expanding the pneumatic tube system) and building the Pavilion,” Bahar said. “It’s great to be part of an organization that’s always growing and has the resources to continue developing more opportunities for patients.”

For Marquette, the project is also a chance to recognize key parts of the University Health System that are often overlooked by examining the complex systems that are crucial to providing patient care.

“When you think of health care, you think of physicians and nurses and pharmacists,” Marquette said. “But we have a massive laundry infrastructure. We have a massive public safety infrastructure. We have a massive tube infrastructure. We have U-M engineers and architects and all of these people behind the scenes. I mean the system has got 30,000 employees. It’s a small city. There’s a lot going on to keep that small city going. And so this is one of those other exciting things that is happening here.”

Daily News Contributor Nadia Taeckens can be reached at taeckens@umich.edu.