July 7, 2022
A Guide to Hospital Refrigerator Temperature Monitoring Systems
Did you know that, during the Covid pandemic, unsuitable vaccine storage threatened access for almost 3 billion people, more than one-third of the world’s population? The World Health Organization estimates that up to half of all vaccines are lost every year due to inadequate or improper storage.
The Covid pandemic exposed the frailties of modern healthcare systems around the world. In response, healthcare facilities have been taking precautionary measures against the spread of infectious diseases. This includes beefing up their refrigerator temperature monitoring capacities.
There are many different types of systems for monitoring refrigeration. These range from manual thermometers to more robust cloud-based systems that offer real-time information and alerts. It can be difficult to know where to start, as your monitoring needs are unique to your hospital or clinic.
The good news is that once you understand the functions of each of these systems, you can make a more informed determination. Keep reading to find out the advantages each type affords. The information below will help you decide which is best for meeting your hospital’s refrigeration demands.
Why Refrigerator Temperature Monitoring is Important
The global medical refrigeration market is currently valued at $3.5 billion. That amount may grow to $4.9 billion by 2026. With so much invested in these capacities, monitoring to ensure proper function is imperative.
A necessary component of safe and effective medical products storage is precise temperature. This applies to vaccines, insulin, and antibiotics. Many sterilants and disinfectants also need refrigeration, as well as some medications like eye drops and topical creams.
Hospitals also use refrigeration for organ preservation. Certain collagen implants and even medical equipment need to be refrigerated as well.
One challenge is that, unlike fruits, vegetables, and other items that go inside your home refrigerator, there is no universal temperature for biological substances. Since they have different compositions, they have distinct temperature requirements. Some must be frozen, while others have a minimum temperature threshold to remain safe and effective.
Most medical refrigerators can maintain a temperature between 36 and 46 degrees Fahrenheit. Medical freezers will have a temperature range between 5 and -58 degrees Fahrenheit. Hospitals generally divide refrigerators up by their contents, location in the hospital (i.e. who needs access to the contents most readily), and desired temperature level in each.
Investing that much in temperature control means that you need to stay on top of any issues that may arise. Three key factors contribute to effective monitoring. The first two are well-trained staff and an effective inventory management strategy. The third component is a reliable temperature monitoring system.
Vaccines are especially sensitive to temperature changes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sets standards for monitoring the conditions in which they are stored, including every step of cold chain logistics. This is to ensure vaccines are safe and retrain their potency.
According to the CDC, improper storage is the primary cause of vaccine potency loss. Dispensing ineffective vaccines is a huge threat to public safety and clinic credibility.
Having a temperature monitoring system that ensures proper storage eliminates these threats. It not only guarantees that your vaccines are safe and effective, but it gives you the peace of mind that you are exceeding compliance requirements and are free of liability.
Types of Hospital Temperature Monitoring Systems
There are many different tools and systems used for monitoring hospital refrigeration levels. Here are some of the most common ones used today.
Many hospitals and clinics still track and log refrigerator temperature manually. The CDC recommendation is that this is done at least twice daily.
Staff record data on a temperature log that is then reviewed by a senior team member for unauthorized or inaccurate entries. Some basic thermometers reflect maximum, and minimum temperatures reached since the last inspection. These must be reset each time to ensure accurate readings between inspections.
Chart recorders are inexpensive tools for manually monitoring refrigerator temperatures. Staff must change them out every day and store them for record-keeping purposes.
The Food and Drug Administration requires hospitals to keep freezer and refrigerator temperature records for at least two years. This can amount to a lot of paperwork and staff time keeping it organized.
Not only is this method time-consuming, but it is open to human error–hence the system of checks and balances to ensure safety. It also fails to produce the accuracy that continually monitored systems afford.
Electronic Freeze indicators
Electronic freeze indicators are handy devices that you use in conjunction with thermometers or temperature recorders. They are small sensors that show if items in refrigeration have been exposed to temperatures at or below freezing. These are for single-use, so you must replace them after only one freezing incident.
Temperature recorders sit inside medical refrigerators or freezers to track the temperature during specific intervals. For instance, they might take and denote the temperature every 10 minutes. These have the capability of recording temperatures during these intervals for several days, weeks, or even a month.
Temperature recorders also might track and display any incidents of the temperature rising or falling below desired levels. These are also known as “temperature excursions.” Some come equipped with alarms that will sound during such events.
There are several limitations to temperature recorders. One is that some work only in refrigerators, but not freezers.
Another serious limitation is that you must monitor these devices themselves. While an alarm may sound for a temperature excursion, there is no backup if the recorder itself goes out or fails to operate properly.
Integrated Digital Thermometers
Integrated digital thermometers are devices designed to provide information through a digital log on their control panel. They offer an instant reading of rises or drops in temperature. These work as a digital alternative to manual logging of temperature fluctuations.
While these can come with built-in alarms, they cannot send SMS or other alerts to personnel in the event of a temperature excursion. Also, there is no backup of the information, so if the device itself goes out, all data would be lost.
Digital Data Logger
Digital data loggers (DDL) are tools that address the limitation of thermometers’ ability to only measure the refrigerator’s ambient temperature. DDLs use probes that measure the actual temperature of vial and container contents, such as vaccines. This helps give you a more accurate picture of the condition of your medical supplies.
A limitation of these devices is that they demand rigorous testing and a valid Certificate of Calibration. They also require physically attaching them to individual vials and containers, which can be time-consuming. For this reason, these devices are usually reserved for contents that have very specific temperature storage requirements.
Cloud-Based Integrated Monitoring Systems
Cloud-based integrated monitoring systems entail sets of thermometers or probes placed in refrigerators and freezers throughout your facility, or even in remote facilities. They use computer software to monitor temperature levels, send alerts, and generate reports.
You can use them in refrigerators as well as freezers. Besides monitoring temperature, they can track a range of environments and refrigerator contents. These include LN2 tanks, oxygen, CO2, differential pressure, and humidity.
These systems can be tailored to fit your particular needs. A Laboratory monitor, for instance, can measure air pressure and humidity range, in addition to laboratory temperature.
Besides audible alarms, integrated monitoring systems give you options for how to receive alerts to dangerous temperature changes. These include SMS, email, or phone calls to specific personnel.
Some systems even give you the option of tiered alarms. For example, the first set of alerts goes out to a set of personnel. If they fail to respond to the issue, a second set of alarms will go out.
Advantages of Integrated Monitoring Systems
There are many reasons to consider upgrading to a cloud-based integrated monitoring system. Here are a few of the main ones that hospitals often cite.
One of the biggest advantages of temperature monitoring systems is that, when issues do arise, they allow you to quickly identify them. Constant precision monitoring means you are getting the most accurate data available without any lapses or breaks.
Continuous monitoring data also gives you are more precise understanding of conditions over time. For instance, was the drop in temperature sudden, or did it decrease over time? Knowing how long an environment has been out of range may be vital information for assessing potential damage.
The main cause of temperature excursions is power loss. Integrated monitoring systems will alert you in the event of a power outage.
Another advantage is that, unlike any other monitoring system, cloud-based monitoring allows you to do so remotely. There is no need to have dedicated staff on hand to ensure proper temperatures in refrigerators and freezers.
Ease of Implementation
Another advantage of integrated monitoring systems is that they can perform updates without replacing any hardware. As monitoring technology advances, there is no need to upgrade probes or software, and updates will be automatic. This also means you will experience no disruptions in monitoring to perform updates.
Finally, you might assume that integrated monitoring systems need special expertise for installation. That is not the case.
Most systems require placing probes and equipment in the refrigerator or freezer and downloading the program’s software. They are extremely easy and quick to get up and running. Also, they demand very little training in terms of operation and monitoring.
One of the biggest advantages of integrated monitoring systems is customization. For instance, they allow you to program behaviors based on certain conditions.
As an example, you may only require temperature checks during routine monitoring, but you can program the system to do continuous monitoring following an alarm. This allows you have a precise reading of conditions during a temperature excursion.
Scalability is another big plus of integrated monitoring systems. It is easy to add to an existing system down the road, without any worry that you will have to replace or update everything.
While you may currently be looking to upgrade vaccine temperature monitoring, some systems allow you to add blood banks, patient areas, surgery prep rooms, and other medical environments. Monitoring of these is incorporated into the same system.
This not only is convenient from a monitoring perspective, but it allows you to streamline training for personnel for these purposes. In general, convenience and a hands-off approach for staff are the most significant advantages of integrated monitoring systems.
While there may be greater upfront costs for monitoring software, it can begin to pay for itself down the road. The amount of time your staff will save alone may be more than enough to offset these expenses, especially over time.
Integrated monitoring systems are extremely secure. Cloud-based platforms will contain security measures, such as data encryption.
Integrated monitoring systems also provide an added layer of security against data loss. In the event of a power outage, you can be assured that all your monitoring information remains intact. You will never have to worry about lost files or vaccine data, no matter what.
A robust temperature monitoring system can also be important from an insurance standpoint. In the event of medical products loss, it can show that you and your staff reacted as expeditiously as possible and did everything in your power to address the issue.
Learn More About Hospital Refrigerator Temperature Monitoring
Now that you have an idea of how refrigerator temperature monitoring systems work and the many advantages they offer, you can decide if they are right for your hospital or clinic setting. They can save you time and money and give you the peace of mind that you are in full compliance with all federal monitoring requirements.
SensoScientific provides accurate, reliable, and user-friendly environment monitoring systems for clinics, pharmacies, laboratories, vaccine storage, blood banks, operating rooms, and more. It is a comprehensive, cloud-based system that allows you to streamline air pressure, temperature, and humidity, as well as other metrics, into a single, usable interface. Reach out to us today to learn more about our products and services.