Why is it important to use medical-grade refrigerators?

Published by Mikaela Fernandez on

Why use medical refrigerators

It is important to use medical-grade refrigerators for storing temperature-sensitive vaccines and pharmaceuticals. The healthcare industry often handles time and temperature-sensitive materials that need to be kept at a specific temperature range. If these materials deviate from the required range, there are possible safety and financial losses. Addressing out-of-range pharmaceuticals can be taxing for pharmacists who are handling other important tasks.

Ensuring the quality of temperature-sensitive drugs and vaccines rely heavily on the cold storage unit being used. Unfortunately, some health care facilities purchase household freezes or refrigerators in an attempt to be cost-effective. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control strongly advises against using these units since they do not adhere to the CDC guidelines. This choice can prove to be more detrimental in the long run since thousands of dollars can be lost due to compromised doses.

Specialized medical refrigerators and freezers have been manufactured to maintain the integrity of biological products. These units are more expensive compared to standard household units. However, they make a better investment over time since they can better protect the products stored inside. They provide temperature stability, feature advanced monitoring systems, and restore temperature quickly in case of an excursion. Compressors installed in medical-grade refrigerators provide greater efficiency for reaching and maintaining the target temperature. While non-medical grade units may take 15-20 minutes to restore the temperature to the target range once a door is opened, medical-grade units consistently stay within the range.

test samples in medical refrigerator

There are a wide variety of medical-grade refrigerators available in the market that can suit the needs of different facilities. CDC dissuades facilities from using dormitory-style or “bar type” refrigerator units since they can freeze vaccines and have unreliable temperature ranges. For offices with limited spaces, dual pharmacy grade units with independent refrigerator and freezer compressors can be used. Under-the-counter, compact units, and broad double-door types are also available.

Benefits of using medical grade refrigerators

Better cold chain regulation. A cold chain supply system requires temperature regulated storage facilities and distribution channels to adequately protect vaccines, blood transfusions, and other biological materials. Using medical-grade refrigerator units paves the way for a reliable cold chain.

Billions of dollars are lost annually in the healthcare industry due to cold chain issues. Thirty-five percent of vaccines are discarded due to spoilage brought by improper storage conditions like overexposure to heat, cold, or light. Liquid vaccines may lose their potency once exposed to temperatures below 0° C (32° F). Inadvertently administering compromised vaccines places the patients in danger. A reduction in the potency of the vaccine may cause the patient to need another vaccination. Ineffective vials may also lead to a distrust on vaccines among the general public causing them to refuse vaccination and risk exposure to preventable diseases.

Medical grade refrigerators are often equipped with temperature monitoring systems that allow a more efficient cold chain management. This feature enables cold chain staff to regulate a more consistent range compared to household units. Doors in the unit also seal tighter in medical-grade units, which prevents temperature inconsistencies. Meanwhile, compressors installed in the unit help maintain and reach the required storage temperature.

Accurate temperature monitoring and responsive alarm systems. Temperature excursions often occur as a result of improper storage conditions and require immediate action. Biological materials and vaccines may lose their potency when the temperature falls out of the required range.

Most medical-grade refrigerator units have temperature monitoring devices for accurate temperature tracking. This feature allows staff to determine the internal temperature of the unit without opening the door. Units should have a current and valid NIST traceable Certificate of Calibration Testing to ensure the reliability of temperature monitoring devices. They often come with audible alarm systems that notify staff when temperature excursions occur, or when a refrigerator door is ajar.

Units with digital data loggers keep an accurate temperature log where staff can see the duration in which the unit fell out of the required temperature range. In contrast, simple thermometers in units only reflect the warmest and coldest temperature that was reached.  

Digital data loggers record information on all temperatures recorded at pre-set levels. It uses buffered temperature probes to determine the actual vaccine temperature.

Smoother airflow. Household units are often equipped with glass shelves that prevent air from flowing throughout the unit. These shelves are easier to clean; however, it prevents units from maintaining an even internal temperature. These units are not suitable for vaccines and biological materials that need to be held at specific temperatures at all times. Using these can compromise the integrity of vaccines and biological materials.

Medical-grade units have a superior airflow due to the use of wire shelves with perforated ventilation holes for the unit’s internal shelving system. They also have powerful, fan-forced systems with air-cooling vents.

It is essential for items to have enough space inside the units. An overfilled refrigerator is detrimental to good air circulation. Units should be at least 30 percent full with no product overflow.

Units should also have good external air circulation. They should always be placed in well-ventilated rooms with adequate space between the floor, walls, and ceilings.

Increased security. The facade of household refrigerators appears inviting for employees and encourages storage of personal items. They are opened more frequently throughout the day, causing possible temperature fluctuations. These units do not have excellent temperature recovery systems, which may cause compromised vaccines and biologics if chosen to be used for pharmaceutical storage.

Due to the intimidating appearance of medical refrigerators, the staff are dissuaded from using the units to store personal items.

Biologics and vaccines are high valued commodities which may be subject to theft and unwanted tampering. Medical grade refrigerators can feature digital locks that allow access only to authorized staff members. Other units have a specific flange integrated on the door for electronic locks. These locks can be controlled through automated dispensing cabinets or a pharmacy information system. Decals to label equipment can also be found inside to prevent a mix-up among the items.

Battery backups in case of power failure. Power failures can compromise a massive quantity of temperature-sensitive biologics and vaccines if the refrigerator units storing these vaccines are not supported with the necessary backup energy. Medical grade units often have backup battery sources (UPS) that can be used in the place of generators. These backups are a great help in preventing temperature fluctuations in case of a power outage. Doors should be tightly closed during power failures to retain the internal temperature. It would also be better to have a second battery backup system if the initial option does not work.

Return on investment overtime. Medical grade units often have a larger initial investment compared to household units; however, expenses incurred due to product loss brought by faulty refrigerator storage may result in thousands of dollars. Using household or dormitory-style units poses a heavy financial risk that can be avoided with the initial procurement of the proper units.

Better quality medical grade refrigerators can secure long-term investment due to the safe and orderly storage of sensitive vaccines and medications.

Factors to consider when buying a medical-grade refrigerator

Purpose. Most medical-grade refrigerators often fall into five usage categories: pharmaceutical supplies, chromatography, vaccine storage, blood bank, or laboratories. Stakeholders should choose units that precisely meet their primary requirements depending on their product offerings.

Place. Units should be ideally placed in a room with low foot-traffic with proper ventilation. This location will prevent unwanted interference by the staff that might cause internal temperature changes. At least four inches between the refrigerator and surrounding walls should be allotted for adequate room and better airflow.

Size. There is a variety of medical storage unit sizes, from compact to large-capacity models. Stakeholders should select units in a size that closely fits their organizational needs depending on the space available in their facility and the amount of inventory they would be storing. Overcrowding in units that are too small result in poor internal airflow, while units that are too spacious for the materials can affect internal temperatures and lead to unnecessary electricity consumption.

Advanced temperatures. Various innovations have been developed to fortify medical-grade units. When purchasing a unit, the microprocessor controllers and compressors must be in place since these systems maintain target temperatures and prevent temperature fluctuations.

Self-closing doors are also featured in some units to prevent units from being left accidentally open by busy healthcare staff. Most units also have hospital-grade cords with solid pins and giant plug bodies that reduce the risk of wire-to-outer contour shock.

Manually defrosting refrigerators will often take longer, but certain units work better through this method. Some feature auto-defrost capabilities, lesser maintenance is needed in these units, but they require more power than manual ones. The chosen type should depend on the contents that are intended to be stored in the unit. For vaccine storage, units should always stay frost-free to ensure the vaccines’ safety and avoid frozen vials.






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