Most of the pharmaceutical products like vaccines, serums, etc. are temperature-sensitive and require special handling once manufactured. To ensure the effectiveness of the vaccines, they need to be stored within the temperature range specified by manufacturers. Most of the vaccines are heat-sensitive; thereby need customized storage and transportation to ensure their effectiveness.The process of transporting biological products involves sophisticated technologies such as refrigeration systems and is termed as cold chain.
Cold chain is a network of cold stores, freezers and cold boxes organized and maintained to prevent vaccines form losing their integrity during transportation, storage and distribution; from factory to the point of use.
There is an inevitable need for a system that can monitor the cold chain and logistics at service delivery points along the health care chain. The system generates actionable data and provides it to the designated person at each level of the cold chain.
Most of the healthcare organizations that produce vaccinations incorporate strict guidelines to maintain the potency of the vaccine. This includes maintaining the effectiveness of the vaccines at all parts of the cold chain like mentioned below:
- Devise a policy on safe storage of vaccines; also assign a designated person responsible for receipt and storage of vaccines
- Periodically review storage temperature and humidity readings to ensure that vaccines have been stored correctly. This is done to make sure that vaccines have not been subjected to temperature excursions outside manufacturers’ specified temperature ranges before they are administered to patients
- Devise procedures for remedial action in case of temperature excursions
Hospitals, healthcare service providers and logistics cannot do without refrigerated systems when it comes to storing or transporting vaccines or other biological products that can become inert outside a manufacturer’s recommended temperature or humidity range. This caters the importance of cold chain monitoring systems in healthcare. To ensure the patient’s safety, monitoring these facilities is extremely important and also the ability to take remedial action in case of some failure occurring is equally critical.
Healthcare service providers are using real-time monitoring and reporting for storing and transporting biological products. The M2M-enabled cold chain provides real time monitoring to healthcare supply chains for vaccines and other biological products. Cold chain provides reliable information to the pharmaceutical companies when communicating with regulatory entities and also reduces lost profits from damaged biomedical products.
The platform comprises of sensors for monitoring temperature and humidity. The sensors are connected via a local wireless gateway to the mobile phone network. Sensors continuously send the temperature and humidity parameters to a central data collection hub. The central collection hub could be a cloud, as well. The data is further interpreted and meaningful information (displaying parameters important to the user) is sent to an application hosted at the monitoring facility or on smartphones.
The platform offers each and every person responsible for the cold chain with a user interface that provides visual display of real-time information, messages, and alerts on vital parameters. The alerts might warn a person that the temperature of the shipment is not as per pre-defined safe temperature range, or that a door is open causing the temperature to rise above the specified temperature range, etc This ensures that a corrective action can be taken instantly.
The IoT sensor network connected with the cloud helps in monitoring the entire cold chain, ensuring the safety of the products.
The sensor data from the transport and storage is stored at a centralized location. The system provides an additional benefit of generating automated reporting of temperature and other parameters. The platform provides visualization of both fixed and mobile locations in a cold chain.
Monitoring the cold chain provides an additional benefit of reducing or optimizing energy consumption. In a storage area, if the monitored temperature is running colder than necessary, corrective measure can be taken to reduce the energy usage.
We can say IoT is no longer a vision, but a reality. More and more connected networks will be in place in the future to monitor cold chains.