Part I: Refrigeration Woes Leave Healthcare in the Cold

We recently polled Facility, Environment of Care and Compliance Managers at hospitals and healthcare facilities about the effectiveness of manual processes for monitoring temperature levels in medical refrigeration units. Their responses led me to two main conclusions: Manual monitoring can lead to losses of medical inventory; and, Risk & Compliance Managers are worried the situation will cause regulatory compliance issues.

Managers can remove the risks associated with manual processes by automating sensor monitoring for medical refrigeration units. In this 3-part series, I explore why and how.

When we asked Facility, EC and Compliance Managers at hospitals and healthcare facilities about the effectiveness of manual monitoring for medical refrigeration, three of five reported the loss of medical inventory, such as vaccines or drugs, due to out-of-range temperatures. They also told us the situation makes them nervous. More than 80 percent said they are concerned about manual monitoring of temperature and humidity levels of refrigeration units. More than 75 percent of that same group feels manual monitoring will cause a regulatory compliance issues in the next two years.

In my professional opinion, these managers have good reason for anxiety because the manual process of checking medical refrigerator units comes with three considerable challenges: Proximity, Budget Restrictions and Timely Compliance. The solution to each problem is the same: A 24/7 automated sensor monitoring system with alerting capabilities.

Proximity

While some refrigeration units tend to be close to areas of patient care, such as an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) or Neonatal Care Unit (NICU), they also are in basements or storage areas. Staying current with every check for every refrigerator requires more resources and time than the facility staff can spare. The clinical team – primarily nurses – is tasked with checking and recording temperatures. While a workable solution, it’s certainly not ideal because clinical staff members are distracted from their primary job – patient care. If a medical refrigeration unit fails when staff isn’t able to break away from patient care, or if staff members are not near the unit for any other reason, thousands of dollars of medical inventory could be lost.

Additionally, a campus could have multiple locations that are short-staffed (or not staffed at all) during non-peak times, such as weekends. With short failure windows, only minutes need pass for thousands of dollars of medical inventory to be lost when a refrigerator fails and no one is in the vicinity to notice.

With an automated monitoring system, the distance issue dissolves immediately. Devices on units leverage existing Wi-Fi networks to monitor and track temperatures, regardless of where units are located in the hospital or even the entire campus. Alerts can be configured for immediate notification when high or low thresholds are breached. These alerts can be configured to notify the facilities team only when the temperature has stayed out of range for a specified period of time – preventing managers from receiving alerts every time a refrigerator door is opened.

If problems arise, a graphical display of the facility’s floor plan guides support teams to the trouble spots. And when the monitoring manager is not in the office or is moving around the campus, the system sends email or text-message alerts to mobile devices.

Implementing an automated system means all the time spent on a manual system is now allocated to patient care, where it should be. This means less money spent on staffing for manual checks and more money spent doing what hospitals do best: Care for patients in the best possible way.

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