Environmental Monitoring: Looking beyond VFC Program Changes

For providers of Vaccines for Children (VFC), January 1, 2017 marks an important deadline. Starting in the New Year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will no longer permit household combination refrigerator/freezers to be used to store vaccines for children. What’s more, for each VFC storage unit, providers will be required to have certified calibrated digital data loggers for continuous temperature monitoring along with a back-up thermometer.

At STANLEY Healthcare, we’re busy collaborating with customers as they address the fast-approaching deadline. Yet we also believe that as with so many compliance requirements, this mandate presents a larger opportunity. VFCs are just one example of materials that must be stored within certain ranges for temperature and humidity —now is the time to revisit how your hospital or clinic is managing environmental conditions throughout your operations.

Manual environmental monitoring can be time consuming and inefficient. It can also be costly—both in terms of financial losses and risks to the health and safety of patients in your care. There’s a much better way: real-time monitoring via wireless tags running on your Wi-Fi network and connected to an enterprise platform for tracking and managing environmental conditions.

Centralizing and automating the monitoring, alerting and reporting of temperature, humidity and other environmental factors addresses many of the most common challenges and risks. It can also help reduce costs and improve care by eliminating the need for staff to spend hours on manual monitoring. Perhaps most importantly, it helps prevent the loss of valuable inventories, equipment and infrastructure required for safe operations. That includes all vaccines and other medications, as well as blood, organs, tissue and other irreplaceable assets.

Best Practices for Vaccine Storage

The CDC revised their Vaccine Storage & Handling Toolkit in June of 2016. It illustrates the Vaccine Cold Chain which outlines the temperature-controlled management and storage of vaccines from manufacture to patient administration.  It is truly a shared responsibility to maintain integrity and potency throughout the lifecycle. 

Healthcare providers’ responsibility starts from the moment the vaccines are delivered to the facility. The packages need to be immediately unpacked and stored at the manufacturer recommended temperature.  Ideal temperatures for refrigerated vaccines are 40 OF and frozen products are between -58OF and 5 OF.  Below are the CDC’s best practices for vaccine storage:

Beyond impacting patient and community safety, improper storage and handling can result in the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars if the vaccines become unusable. Given that “Sustain Financial Viability” emerged as the #1 Key Business Objective in the HIMSS Annual Leadership Survey (2016), healthcare organizations can’t afford to make these kinds of errors.  For example, one of our client’s Environmental Monitoring system automatically alerted staff that a specific refrigerator temperature was rising; the unit had been accidently unplugged.  Proactive management saved the hospital an estimated $120,000 that it would have cost to replace the spoiled product.  In addition, the corrective action was easily documented and used for compliance purposes.

Alongside an automated approach, a growing number of hospitals and clinics are recognizing the value of environmental monitoring analytics. Real-time monitoring helps prevent losses and ensure compliance; but identify important trends and opportunities for process improvements requires collecting and analyzing data over the long term..

STANLEY Healthcare is committed to helping healthcare organizations streamline the management of vaccine temperature monitoring as outlined by the CDC’s Toolkit and recommendations for VFC compliance.  Our partnership is empowering hospitals and clinics to improve patient safety, facilitate regulatory compliance and avoid unnecessary cost.

Whether you’ve already addressed the new VFC mandates—or you’re still working to meet them—consider how automation could help you improve efficiency, safety and quality. How are you monitoring and managing environmental conditions? Have you thought about how environmental monitoring analytics could help you further improve? Share your thoughts in the comments, and reach out to STANLEY Healthcare if you’d like to talk more about your specific needs.