It’s easy to overlook the many technologies, logistics, and strategies that transport, store, and distribute lifesaving medical products to patients and healthcare facilities. Many consumers might take for granted having these medical products at their disposal at local pharmacies and hospitals. You might not consider the supply chain challenges manufacturers and distributors face when getting crucial medicines to patients.
One of the primary hurdles that the pharmaceutical industry confronts regularly is transporting temperature-sensitive medical products to pharmacies. Pharmaceutical companies and manufacturers use a temperature-controlled supply chain to enable cold storage for pharmaceuticals.
Temperature-controlled supply chains are also used in other sectors, including the food and beverage industry, to transport temperature-sensitive food products and prevent food-borne illness outbreaks. However, cold chain storage is significant for pharmaceutical products since we must store many of them at ultra-low temperatures. Getting these products to patients can save lives, so let’s explore how pharmacies use innovative supply chain and logistics solutions to prioritize cold storage for pharmaceuticals.
What is Cold Storage in the Pharmaceutical Industry?
Cold chain storage refers to temperature-controlled supply chains used to transport goods from manufacturers to distributors and retailers. Importantly, cold chain storage monitors the temperature of goods at each stage of the supply chain process. It often incorporates refrigerated trucks, ultra-low temperature freezers, and packaging with dry ice to keep temperatures stable and within the accepted temperature range.
How do Pharmacies Use Cold Chain Storage?
Cold storage for pharmaceuticals became particularly central during the COVID-19 pandemic since transporters and providers had to keep COVID-19 vaccines at extremely low temperatures to prevent them from degrading. The Pfizer vaccine, for example, must be held at a temperature of about minus 94ºF (minus 70ºC) or a range of minus 76º to minus 112ºF (minus 60º to minus 80ºC). Traditional flu vaccines are kept at minus 4ºC.
Pfizer has devised specialized packaging for vaccines that use dry ice to keep vaccines cold throughout shipping. However, after vaccines arrive at pharmacies or healthcare facilities, they must be carefully handled and moved into low-temperature freezers. Pharmacists have training on how to handle these vaccines and the instruments used to carry them since direct content with the skin can affect their temperature.
What is Cold Chain Logistics?
Cold chain logistics refers to the processes and equipment used to ensure temperature-controlled storage of certain products or goods. Not so long ago, company personnel had to use manual temperature monitoring technologies like thermometers to verify the cold storage of pharmaceuticals. Today, pharmacies and many private companies use data loggers and other powerful technologies to create systems and procedures that ensure we store products at optimal temperatures.
Organizing reliable supply chains and logistics is a goal for many businesses, from multinational sellers to drop shippers. However, it is of particular importance for pharmacies since temperature control is vital to the industry, so electronic technologies like data loggers have proven helpful.
According to Dickson Data, data loggers are electronic devices that collect environmental data about their surroundings, including temperature, humidity, and differential pressure. Data loggers are essential for cold chain storage because they can keep track of the temperature of medical products storage facilities.
Why Must Cold Storage be Monitored?
Companies are actually legally obligated to monitor, collect, and record temperature data for regulators for many products. This temperature data must be submitted in a particular format so that regulators can ensure that storage facilities are keeping all products at sufficiently low temperatures. Moreover, temperature monitoring is a crucial part of responsible corporate governance.
Most data loggers have some form of internal storage that allows them to house the collected data. Those monitoring these data loggers can later connect an external computer or hard drive where the data can be formatted, analyzed, and, if necessary, submitted to regulators. Many manufacturers, including Pfizer, use data loggers connected to their low-temperature packaging that relay information related to temperature and environmental data back to the manufacturer.
For example, Pfizer ships vaccines in containers that relay information to manufacturers about when a container was delivered and opened. Pharmacists actually push a button on the container to indicate that the logistics company has successfully delivered the vaccines and moved them into proper storage.
What Issues Does IoT Solve (IoT)?
IoT, or Internet of Things technology, refers to physical devices that allow information to be connected or received, often through the internet. IoT tech has significant implications for cold chain monitoring, and it’s no surprise that it is already receiving widespread growth in the healthcare industry.
For example, many data loggers today use a connection to the internet to store data in the cloud or transmit data directly to computer systems or software, allowing for real-time data monitoring in which supply chain professionals can actively survey the temperatures of storage facilities and receive notification from the facilities if there is a significant deviation from required temperatures.
Pharmaceutical companies and even individual pharmacies must prioritize cybersecurity when using data loggers connected to the internet. That’s because any internet connection brings possible security vulnerabilities with it. However, the benefits of internet-enabled data loggers outweigh the drawbacks for many companies.
Pharmacies can keep data loggers connected to the internet to monitor the storage temperatures of their freezers or refrigeration units. In some cases, pharmacists must also advise patients about the cold chain storage requirements of prescribed medications or products. That’s because it’s crucial patients understand how to responsibly store their medications at home to prevent them from degrading or becoming unstable.
We can also connect many internet-enabled data loggers to software that allows pharmacies to access a dashboard that gives them a big-picture overview of their storage facilities’ temperature and environmental data. Being able to view data from multiple storage facilities in an intuitive dashboard and user interface is an obvious advantage for pharmacies.
Moreover, some data logging software also features tools to analyze data to detect hazardous temperature changes and gain valuable business intelligence insights. Many industries, including the healthcare sector, are already using this analysis software to find ways to cut costs, reduce power consumption, simplify supply chains, and facilitate cold storage for pharmaceuticals. The rise of big data has produced an increased interest in the lucrative field of data science.
To Sum It Up
Cold chain monitoring systems and practices are increasingly important for pharmacies to implement. Responsible monitoring will help pharmacies uphold quality assurance standards, comply with regulatory requirements, and help patients.