Proactive Monitoring of Healthcare Cold Storage Units


Today we welcome Dan Cusick as a guest contributor to the ZulaFly blog. Dan is the VP of Customer Development at Emanate Wireless, where their goal is to provide innovation at the intersection of technology and the healthcare industry. 

In a healthcare or pharmaceutical environment, there are many instances where assets and supplies must be stored at a specific temperature or within a certain range. When storing critical assets and supplies in such a setting, it is necessary to monitor storage temperature to meet various compliance requirements. While temperature monitoring is important for compliance purposes, its usefulness extends to additional purposes. Temperature monitoring also serves as a proactive measure by healthcare providers to prevent losses that can easily reach into the thousands of dollars if product and/or samples are damaged due to out-of-range storage temperature.

Manual temperature recording processes are still utilized by some providers. This can be an inefficient practice, as the manual approach  is often slow to recognize an excursion. Ultimately, by the time it is recorded, the temperature has typically been out of range for an unknown number of hours. There is difficulty in proving if and when an excursion occurred between manual readings. Today, the majority of providers are upgrading to automated data loggers. These monitor continuously, while alarming when temperatures fall out of specification. This approach reduces manual labor and errors and can also provide more accurate warning of excursions.

Automated monitoring systems should be the catch-all solution… right? Not exactly. Delays are still a factor due to the fact that temperature probes are typically inserted in glycol or sand. The use of glycol or sand buffers out air temperature fluctuation in the refrigerator (when the door is open, for example) to avoid false alarms.

Buffers also more accurately indicate the current temperature of the assets or products in storage. As we all know, when something is cold, it remains cold for a period of time even if the air around it warms. The use of the buffers doesn’t allow the time of the refrigerator or freezer failure to be pinpointed. By the time the monitoring system signals an alert to the provider of a temperature excursion, the fridge or freezer may have been failing for hours. In this instance, the material itself may be at risk of spoilage in the near future. By the time a warning comes, the situation is often already urgent or it’s too late.

What’s the solution? How can a healthcare provider or pharmacy get an early warning when a temperature excursion is likely to occur?  As is typically the case in the “Internet of Healthcare Things”, the solution is contained in additional sensors. It’s a matter of measuring function, not just temperature.  

Instead of monitoring temperature exclusively, the systems must also monitor the workings of the refrigeration unit itself. As an example, a sensor can ‘catch’ if a door is open longer than expected. A sensor can also monitor functions such as the duty cycle of the refrigerator compressor, subsequently providing a warning if the unit is running at a higher duty cycle than normal. This would indicate a need for maintenance.  A sensor can also be used to detect if the AC outlet is providing power to the unit, or if maintenance issues such as compressor mechanical failures, seal failures, and dirty coils are emerging.

Fortunately, a solution like this does exist. PowerPath Temp from Emanate Wireless monitors and analyzes the AC power line of the storage unit, as well as the internal temperature. By monitoring the AC power line, PowerPath Temp is capable of detecting the key sources of excursions such as compressor issues, AC outage, or an open door. By monitoring these factors, an alarm sounds before the excursion actually happens. In the healthcare industry, this revolutionary product represents an opportunity to more dependably preserve high-dollar or irreplaceable products. Some critical examples include pharmaceuticals, vaccines, or human organs and tissues requiring a constant temperature for storage.

Easily installed without any particular, mechanical expertise, PowerPath mounts on the side of a healthcare refrigerator or freezer. It is plugged in between the refrigerator or freezer’s plug and an AC outlet. The probe is inserted through the back of the refrigerator or freezer’s plug. It can also be routed behind the door seal.

Since PowerPath is plugged into an outlet, one would think it is vulnerable to power outages. However, the PowerPath device includes a rechargeable, lifetime battery. If a power outage to the refrigerator happens, the unit immediately alerts of this condition while continuing to monitor the internal storage temperature of the refrigerator or freezer. Problem solved.

In terms of additional technology, the PowerPath Temp utilizes Wi-Fi technology to communicate with the cloud server. It also features Bluetooth Low Energy technology, which enables communication to be transmitted via PowerPath mobile application. The user can retrieve the temperature data, alarms, and operational conditions of the cold storage unit using a smart mobile device.

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