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Automatic Temperature Monitoring: So Much Data, So Little Time

May 06, 2014




Once the Wireless Temperature Monitor (WTM) is taking readings, what do I do?

In our ongoing series about NYC Hospital Queens’ experience in selecting and installing a WTM system to monitor medications and blood in hospital refrigerators (Link to Article) we’ve taken a closer, more in depth dive to help define the need, wants and desires, examined temperature monitoring device types,  testing, selection, and placement.  They’re up and running and data is being collected. This final chapter in the series addresses the issue, “Now What?”

Temperature monitoring data, unlike temperature control data such as that from a thermostat that turns on and off the heating system, is only useful when people know about it, and very useful when people are told about temperature extremes that can jeopardize the medications, blood or other valuable materials stored in a refrigerator or freezer. What are the steps to using the data these devices are measuring and collecting? The answer is, it depends.

In the simplest case, a temperature sensor can provide a visual display of the temperature at the point of use, say a digital thermometer display located near the refrigerator. Hospital staff would see the reading and make note of it on the data log sheet with a frequency enough to meet hospital policies. Using a WTM device in this manner is not very cost effective since one could simply buy a digital thermometer and display from a hardware store that could do the same thing for much less money. So let’s take it one step further and put an alarm on the device that will ring, blink, flash, or do something else to call attention to out of range readings. This way staff would have their thermometer readings and be made aware before temperature sensitive materials were exposed to harmful levels. Again, less expensive devices can do this well. More importantly, such alarms are often not seen or heard during low staffing times and those that are annoying enough to be heard anywhere not conducive to hospital floor peacefulness, especially when they go off twice per day due to someone lingering with the door open or leaving it slightly ajar after use. In some cases they are disabled, defeating the purpose of installing them.



Digital temperature alarm requires near by staff members to hear and respond to audible alarm when problems occur, leaving potential gaps in response quality. (Link to Source)

To be most useful, WTM devices or systems take data automatically on a regular interval and store it or send it to a server. The data is stored for reporting purposes and is often used to determine if the temperatures are outside the range defined by the medication suppliers or governmental agencies: CDC refrigerated inactivated vaccine storage temperature range is 35°F and 46°F (2°C and 8°C), with a desired average temperature of 40°F (5°C). To be useful, when the temperature falls outside this range, an alarm, email, text or phone call alert will be sent to responsible staff members to take action. Even more useful is when an escalation notification plan is available to insure that if the responsible staff member(s) is not responding in a timely manner, others are made aware and can take action. Because temperature sensors are able to detect harmful temperatures quickly, staff members have time to take action to correct the issue or move the materials to another, compliant location.

When the WTM device is activated for the first time default settings are available. With the exception of cellular (mobile phone) systems, WTM devices first needs to be set to communicate with the site’s IT network. The process is similar to setting up a home WiFi router or connecting a new computer to the network: the user needs to define what to connect to, how to connect, what to display, and how to report when there is a problem. This is generally done through a series of user setup screens. Users will need to know the network password or enlist IT staff resources in connecting the device for the first time.  Successive screens in the setup process will define data capture rate, reporting frequency, alert types and recipients, and how to display the data, graphically, in tables, etc.

WTM devices require user input to produce graphs and other data displays such as the one on the Left.  Temperature@lert’s WiFi Edition connection screen (Right) enables the device to connect to the site IT network to display graphs, tables, data logs, etc.

The location of temperature data logs is also an important consideration. WTM devices generally have some on-board memory but this may be volatile and disappear if power is lost. A device that sends the data through the network to hospital servers or designated cloud servers may solve this issue but if there is a general power outage, communication to the IT equipment may not be available. Many hospitals have Uninterruptable Power Supplies on their networks so communication will be maintained and complete data logs preserved.  Off-site Cloud servers and sometimes employed; they generally have very high reliability and add an additional level of data integrity.

For cases when both WTM devices and the networks they communicate through are not able to function due to power outages, etc., devices such as Temperature@lert’s battery-backed Cellular Edition and Sensor Cloud servers can provide a level of fault-tolerant operation not able to be achieved otherwise.

Additional WiFi Edition setup screens demonstrate connection to Temperature@lert’s Sensor Cloud (Left) and Preference settings to select temperature scale (C or F), temperature measurement interval, date and time, graph scale and set password among other parameters.

A final consideration is proper staffing to take on the added responsibility of being “on-call” when refrigerators or freezers have problems. Just plugging in the device and expecting staff to respond to alarms, email, pager, text or phone messages when something occurs is not realistic. Hospital staff are generally overcommitted, adding this additional workload without addressing staff expectations can erase the benefits of the temperature monitoring system. A clear response plan including a well defined escalation plan for times things do not go according to plan is critical for success. Management and staff are well served to work together to insure proper staff time is available for the added responsibilities that are needed to review the data, address any issues or make improvements, and to respond to times when things go wrong. In that way regulatory compliance will be assured and the investment in WTM technology will not be wasted.

Much ground has been covered in this eleven-part series. The takeaway message is WTM technology has an important place in hospitals, clinics and medical offices but there is a lot to understand to insure the device selected meets the organization’s needs and abilities. Taken step by step, success is more likely than when a quick, “Let’s try this!” approach is used. The most important thing to remember is every facility is different, and the technology to work in each environment may be different. Study, evaluate, plan, implement, train and reevaluate and adjust are some of the key steps to success.

Temperature@ert’s WiFi, Cellular and ZPoint product offerings linked to the company’s Sensor Cloud platform provides a cost effective solution for organizations of all sizes. The products and services can help bring a laboratory or medical practice into compliance with minimum training or effort. For information about Temperature@lert visit our website at or call us at +1-866-524-3540.

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Written By:

Dave Ruede, Well-Versed Wordsmith

Dave Ruede, a dyed in the wool Connecticut Yankee, has been involved with high tech companies for the past three decades. His background in chemistry and experience in a multitude of industries such as industrial chemicals and systems, pulp and paper, semiconductor fabrication, data centers, and test and assembly facilities informs his work daily. Well-versed in sales, marketing, management, and business development, Dave brings real world experience to Temperature@lert. When not crafting new Temperature@lert projects, Dave enjoys spending time with his young granddaughter, who keeps him grounded to the simple joys in life. Such joys for this wordsmith include reading prize winning fiction and non-fiction. Although a Connecticut Yankee, living for a decade in coastal California’s not too hot, not too cold climate epitomizes Dave’s favorite temperature, 75°F.


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