Pharmacies, hospitals, and laboratories rely on cold storage units to protect drugs and vaccines. These appliances create optimal conditions that extend the shelf-life of these beneficial medicines. Unfortunately, some clinics try to save money by purchasing household freezers or refrigerators. This choice can cost thousands of dollars because of compromised doses and medicines.
Manufacturers design medical freezers and refrigerators to protect biological products. Although medical-grade refrigerators require a higher upfront cost, they provide a better investment over time compared to domestic units. They use higher-quality materials and have a longer time between failures and temperature excursion events.
Why should your healthcare facility invest in this high-end equipment? Today, you'll learn about the five benefits of medical refrigerators and freezers.
What are Medical-Grade Refrigerators and Freezers?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control defines medical refrigerators and freezers as purpose-built units. Manufacturers have built these pharmaceutical-grade appliances to store biologic material. The machines have several advantages over typical household refrigeration units.
Unlike household refrigerators, medical-grade appliances have a microprocessor-based system that precisely measures temperatures. They use digital sensors (such as thermocouples, resistance temperature detectors [RTD], and thermistors) to monitor the interior temperature. The units also have fast temperature recovery apparatuses that respond to out-of-range temperature readings.
Medical units should not use refrigerators and freezers which don't adhere to CDC guidelines. The federal agency strongly recommends clinics to stop using older combination household units. Instead, they should replace them with stand-alone, medical-grade refrigerator and freezer units.
Dual pharmacy grade units with independent refrigerator and freezer compressors (not combination units sharing a single one) are fine in offices with limited space. Facilities can use under-the-counter, compact units or large ones with double-doors. The CDC forbids the use of dormitory-style refrigerators to store vaccines since these units provide unreliable temperature ranges and can freeze vaccines.
The Immunization Action Coalition recommends vaccines to be placed in a medical-grade refrigerator or freezer designed to hold biologic products. Since these refrigerators don't store food items, they will be opened fewer times by staff members during the day.
Some medical-grade refrigerators with glass doors have another advantage. They allow health care workers to locate items inside before opening the door. It helps maintain the unit's temperature since the door is open for less time.
Benefit One – They Ensure a Reliable Cold-Chain for Biologics
Using medical-grade appliances is critical because they help providers maintain a reliable cold chain. This supply system uses temperature-controlled storage areas and distribution methods that protect vaccines, blood transfusions, and biological material. A cold chain also extends the shelf-life of living organisms.
Every year, healthcare clinics lose $20 million due to cold-chain failures. The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization says facilities discard 35 percent of vaccines due to improper refrigeration.
These products can lose their potency due to poor storage conditions, such as overexposure to heat, cold, or light. Liquid vaccines can lose their effectiveness after exposure to temperatures below 0° C [32° F]. Once damaged, their potency cannot return.
Every year, healthcare workers may inadvertently administer compromised doses to some people. These mistakes damage individuals' trust and confidence in vaccines since patients need another vaccination. It also places the public in danger. Patients may refuse revaccination and stay unprotected from preventable diseases.
Facilities should use medical refrigerators (or freezers) with temperature monitors to regulate the cold chain. This equipment maintains a tighter, more consistent range than household units. They keep vaccines in proper storage conditions. Medical refrigerators also have compressors that can reach target temperatures faster and maintain them. The unit's doors also seal tighter and better than their domestic counterparts.
Additional practices medical facilities can take to protect the cold chain include accurately managing inventory and training staff to handle biologics.
Benefit Two – They Have Accurate Temperature Monitoring and Alarm Systems
The CDC defines temperature excursions as inappropriate storage conditions that require immediate action. These incidents harm biological materials and cause vaccines to lose their potency. Any temperature reading outside of the manufacturer's recommended ranges for vaccines is an excursion event.
Accurate temperature monitoring is the second benefit of medical-grade refrigerators and freezers. Unlike household units, most pharmaceutical-grade appliances have external Temperature Monitoring Devices (TMD).
They allow facilities to track internal temperatures without having to open the refrigerator door. TMDs help providers keep an accurate history that reflects vaccine temperatures. This step is crucial to protect your biological supplies.
The CDC recommends using TMDs with digital data loggers (DDL). These devices provide accurate storage unit temperature information. They give details about how long the unit has operated outside of recommended temperature ranges. Simple minimum/maximum thermometers only show the warmest and coldest temperatures a unit has reached.
Medical refrigerators and freezers have built-in DDLs that provide information on all temperatures recorded at pre-set levels. All TMDs should have a current and valid Certificate of Calibration Testing. DDLs use buffered temperature probes to measure actual vaccine temperatures. This buffered probe measures vaccines more closely than standard thermometers.
The CDC does not recommend the use of alcohol/mercury-based thermometers, bimetal stems, infrared, and chart. Facilities should not use TMDs that don't have a current, valid Certificate of Calibration Testing.
Many TMDs also have alarm systems when temperatures go outside of their recommended ranges. Healthcare providers should use backup monitors to confirm internal temperatures. If you need to change it, make small adjustments toward warmer or colder settings slowly to avoid going outside of the recommended temperature ranges. Allow the reading to stabilize for 30 minutes, then recheck it.
Set refrigerator or freezer thermostats at the factory-set or midpoint temperature, which will decrease the possibility of a temperature excursion. Appropriate medical refrigerator or freezer storage systems should include:
Refrigerators should maintain temperatures within +/-2° C of 5° C despite fluctuating ambient temperatures.
Medical freezers should keep internal temperatures between -50° C and -15° C (-58° F and +5° F).
Vaccine storage areas that don't exceed the +2° C to 8° C (+36° F to 46°F) temperature range.
The ability to create a digital thermostat preset to 5° C (preferably 4° C).
Health care providers should monitor temperates in their medical freezers and refrigerators twice a day. Download these logs to track temperatures s from the Immunization Action Committee:
Benefit Three – They Promote Better Air Flow
Household refrigerators units have glass shelves that can prevent air from circulating. Their design protects food, but it doesn't maintain an even internal temperature. These unstable conditions can compromise vaccines and biological materials.
Medical-grade appliances are designed to have a superior airflow compared to their domestic counterparts. Pharmaceutical units rely on powerful, fan-forced air circulation systems with air-cooling vents. Their internal shelving systems also circulate air efficiently and maintain uniform temperatures. They use wire shelves with perforated ventilation holes.
Other purpose-built systems include drawers with solid fronts (and wire interiors) that protect vaccines and samples from ambient temperatures and promote even air circulation. Many medical refrigerators and freezers have alarm systems to notify providers when airlocks haven't sealed, or doors are ajar.
According to CDC recommendations, medical-grade refrigerators and freezers should have the following systems:
Medical refrigerators should have wire shelves with good interior circulation to minimize internal temperature variance to +/-2° C.
An audible alarm notifying employees when a door is ajar or temperature excursions occur.
Healthcare workers should adjust the temperature of their refrigeration units before using the automated tracking system. Do not overfill your refrigeration unit to ensure air circulates well. They should be at least 30 percent full with no overcrowding.
Providers should ensure their medical freezers have good circulation outside of the unit. Always place these appliances in well-ventilated rooms. Units should have space between the floor, ceilings, and any walls.
Materials shouldn't block the compartment covers of refrigeration units. They should be firm, level, and the bottom of the unit and elevated above the floor.
Benefit Four - Medical-Grade Units Prevent Unauthorized Staff Access to Biologics
Medical refrigerators serve another benefit for pharmacies and hospitals. They discourage staff members from using them by their very appearance. Household refrigerators used in a hospital setting may encourage employees to use it for personal use. Healthcare workers may constantly open the unit, causing temperature fluctuations throughout the day. These appliances don't have a great temperature recovery system, so vaccines and other biologics can lose their potency.
Additionally, some purpose-built units have digital locks that restrict access to only authorized staff members. These appliances may also include decals to label equipment for its intended use and prevent mixed storage.
Benefit Five - They Protect Biological Products from Temperature Excursions Due to Power Failures
Power failures can damage your vaccine supply even when providers use appropriate equipment and consistent temperature monitoring practices. These disruptions can destroy an entire vaccine supply. Most facilities should have an on-site generator, which prevents the need to transport their vaccine supply to an alternative storage facility during a power outage. Providers should have enough fuel at the facility to run the generator for 72 hours.
If your healthcare facility doesn't have a generator, your medical refrigerators or freezer can protect your product. Most have battery backups to prevent temperature excursions. Medical refrigerators and freezers provide an added advantage since they have backup battery power sources they can use in place of generators. In case of a power outage, keep the appliance's doors closed to maintain the internal temperature. Your facility should also have a second battery backup system in case the first one fails.
The CDC advises providers to test backup battery power sources quarterly and service them annually. Check the manufacturer's guidelines for proper maintenance schedules and testing procedures.
Medical refrigeration units require more of an upfront investment but provide unparalleled benefits for health care providers. American Biotech Supply is a trusted manufacturer of high-quality medical devices. We produce outstanding medical refrigerators and freezers for health care clinics, hospitals, and doctor's offices. Our pharmaceutical-grade appliances comply with CDC and FDA recommendations. Contact us for details. For more information on medical refrigerators and freezers for vaccines, read the CDC's Vaccine Storage and Handling. Check out our most popular choices for medical grade units.