Keeping medicines at the right temperature is crucial for patient safety, efficiency and avoiding waste within the NHS. This is obviously critical across a hospital, but particularly at ward level, with the Care Quality Commission highlighting cases where processes haven’t been adequately followed during their inspections.
While all hospitals have procedures for the management of medicines, ensuring compliance can be difficult due to the time-consuming methods used to measure and record temperatures in ward fridges and medicine rooms. Nurses often have to check temperatures manually, taking time away from caring for patients. As a result, checks can be missed if an emergency occurs on a busy ward. With this manual approach, it’s impossible to measure how temperatures fluctuated between checks or to view trends over time.
Some hospitals fit wired min/max probes to fridges that sound an alarm if temperatures rise above 8 degrees, but they can be overly sensitive, leading to alarms going off even if a fridge door is opened to retrieve medicines. Dealing with false alarms adds to the workload of nurses and pharmacy staff, again taking time away from other duties.
The good news for the NHS is that a new generation of cloud based intelligent sensors can automatically monitor medicine temperature conditions in real-time. Placed within ward fridges and medicine rooms, they can be intelligently configured to prevent false alarms and send alerts if temperatures rise above set parameters. Rather than simply sounding audible alarms, relevant staff receive text or email alerts on any internet enabled device, with managers having full visibility of what happened and the response to the incident. As monitoring is constant, there is an unbroken record of how temperatures have changed over time, which can be easily accessed and shared with regulators.
When it comes to protecting medicines within wards, Connected Automated Monitoring delivers benefits in six key areas:
1. Minimises false alarms
Sensors can be configured flexibly to incorporate the normal operations of a ward. For example, rather than simply setting off an alarm when a fridge door is opened and temperatures rise, the sensor can be set to wait for 15 minutes to allow the environment to settle – if temperatures are then still too high an alarm will sound. Many wards receive deliveries from the central hospital pharmacy at set times – sensors can take this into account, and expect doors to be open, and temperatures high, at certain times of the day.
2. Clear responsibilities defined
Who is responsible for responding to alarms and alerts can be a grey area in practice. Cloud based automating monitoring provides full visibility of what is happening, and both nursing and pharmacy staff are clear about their duties, and who responds to alarms and alerts.
3. Medicine waste reduced
Hospitals typically hold thousands of pounds worth of medicines at any one time. Often these are kept in unmanned medicine rooms on wards, meaning that any alarms will not be heard by staff, and valuable medicines and supplies rendered useless due to temperature changes. By alerting staff electronically, whether they are on or off site, any issues can be investigated and dealt with before medicines are spoiled.
4. Maximise process efficiency
If nurses or pharmacy staff are manually taking temperature readings or responding to constant alarms, they can’t be focusing on their main duties. By automating monitoring their valuable time can be better spent, increasing efficiency and thus reducing the costs of medicine protection.
5. Ensure patient safety
Obviously the main driver behind temperature monitoring is to safeguard the efficacy of medicines and therefore ensure that patients benefit from their treatments. As automated monitoring takes temperatures on a constant basis any issues can be spotted immediately, allowing staff to react quickly and ensure medicines are safe and effective for patients.
6. Drive compliance and make reporting easier
The CQC checks medicine management processes and records as part of its inspections, looking for reassurance that procedures are being followed. By using automated monitoring hospitals have a complete, verified, digital record of how medicines have been stored and how issues have been dealt with. This is easy to share, and makes demonstrating compliance simple and straightforward.
Given the importance of temperature monitoring of medicines, and the issues with manual and wired methods, it is time for all hospitals to look at the benefits that digital, automated monitoring can bring to their operations.
Related blog posts
Digital innovation can support safe and efficient Covid vaccine distribution
Advances in process management and monitoring technology could help support the fast, safe and efficient roll-out of critical medicines including new Covid-19 vaccines
Preparing for the global roll-out of a Covid-19 vaccine
A viable vaccine for Covid-19 is edging closer but distribution will present major technical challenges requiring digital solutions, meticulous planning and extensive cold-chain facilities