TempMark8 shows importance of temperature monitoring
Written by Derek Richardson, Group Sales Director, The IMC Group
The need to store certain drugs in refrigerated conditions is widely accepted and while many drugs are unaffected by fluctuations in temperature, there are several categories of medicine that must be maintained at between 2°C and 8°C in order to safeguard their quality and effectiveness.
The problem is that pharmaceuticals rarely stay in one place, so although the hospital refrigerator might be ideally configured, the conditions encountered during transit can vary wildly.
Exposure to inappropriate storage and handling conditions, depending on the extent of temperature levels and the period of time involved, may not just impinge on the effectiveness of certain drugs, but in some cases can even have negative health consequences for patients.
It’s an issue that is now being addressed by rapid advances in technology. The risks of deterioration can be dramatically reduced with the deployment of inexpensive monitoring devices such as Lamerholm’s specially designed TempMark8, which records instances where preset temperature limits have been exceeded.
Vaccines are a prime example of the importance of such developments. It was when major immunisation programmes were underway in developing countries that concerns about vaccine instability were first raised.
The fact that large proportions of the population were not benefitting from vaccinations turned the spotlight on the supply chain as a possible cause. In the journey from manufacturer to end user, the vaccines were handled by a number of transport and storage companies, which is where inconsistencies in temperature conditions arose. These came to be known as breaks in the cold chain.
Research prompted the intervention of the World Health Organisation(WHO), which introduced new rules on the transportation and storage of vaccines and encouraged the use of temperature indicators.
However, the adoption of such technology across the wider pharmaceutical sector has been slower. One reason could be that the problems caused by breaks in the cold chain are not as immediately apparent as in the mass immunisation programme mentioned previously, where higher temperatures and extended journey times were more common.
But this should not detract from the risk of deterioration that can result from fluctuating temperatures in other situations.
In the UK, for example, failure to comply with the guidelines imposed by the Medicines and Healthcare Produces Regulatory Agency (MHRA) can result in the wastage of affected drugs, the high costs of product recall and most importantly, a risk to patients’ health.
A significant factor is that while manufacturers are acutely aware of the ideal conditions in which their drugs should be stored, this information is not always relayed fully to the health workers and transport staff who are moving them from place to place. Therefore,an additional issue arises around who should be responsible for ensuring correct storage.
Not only should measures be taken when packing and storing pharmaceutical drugs but when transporting products to suppliers.
For distributors, a failure to keep substances at the correct temperature can be detrimental to their reputation, often costing them vital customers.
This is not something that should be left to chance. Lamerholm has revolutionised the packaging industry by creating a device designed to record up to eight conditions of temperature during packing, storage and transportation. The TempMark8, the first device of its kind to go on the market, allows pharmacists to determine whether packages have been exposed to dangerous temperatures and the safety of the product has been compromised.
The small, single-use device has an adhesive back cover for easy fixing onto packages. The review button allows the user to cycle through alarm level, number of times the predetermined limit was exceeded, consecutive samples over the limit and cumulative samples over the limit. The eight alarm triggers combine three descending (-1°C, 0°C and 2°C) and five ascending (8°C, 10°C, 15°C, 20°C and 25°C).
To help allow for international logistics and extended periods of storage, the device has a battery life of 90 days and then switches into low-battery mode in order to retain the data until the battery is completely depleted.
For pharmaceutical manufacturers, and the packaging and logistics suppliers who serve them, the TempMark8 is a highly cost-effective assurance that the items being delivered have been stored at an appropriate temperature throughout.
The attachment of such a device to a pharmaceutical package not only provides assurance but can also act as a visual deterrent against improper handling, thereby making logistics staff aware of the need to maintain appropriate temperatures.
As a result of technology like this, there is no longer any excuse for manufacturers and carriers to take risks with adverse temperatures.
The IMC Group was formed in 2007 by the amalgamation of Lamerholm Electronics, Hanwell Instruments and Jekyll Electronic Technology. The IMC Group has recently announced the acquisition of Silvertree Engineering Ltd. The group has over 100 years of experience and offers a comprehensive range of instrumentation and communication systems.
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How UiPath robots are helping with the NHS backlog
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many hospitals to have logistical nightmares, as backlogs of surgeries built up as a result of cancellations. The BMJ has estimated it will take the UK's National Health Service (NHS) a year and a half to recover.
However software robots can help, by automating computer-based processes such as replenishing inventory, managing patient bookings, and digitising patient files. Mark O’Connor, Public Sector Director for Ireland at UiPath, tells us how they deployed robots at Mater Hospital in Dublin, saving clinicians valuable time.
When Did Mater Hospital implement the software robots - was it specifically to address the challenges of the pandemic?
The need for automation at Mater Hospital pre-existed the pandemic but it was the onset of COVID-19 that got the team to turn to the technology and start introducing software robots into the workflow of doctors and nurses.
The pandemic placed an increased administrative strain on the Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) department at Mater Hospital in Dublin. To combat the problem and ensure that nurses could spend more time with their patients and less time on admin, the IPC deployed its first software robots in March 2020.
The IPC at Mater plans to continue using robots to manage data around drug resistant microbes such as MRSA once the COVID-19 crisis subsides.
What tasks do they perform?
In the IPC at Mater Hospital, software robots have taken the task of reporting COVID-19 test results. Pre-automation, the process created during the 2003 SARS outbreak required a clinician to log into the laboratory system, extract a disease code and then manually enter the results into a data platform. This was hugely time consuming, taking up to three hours of a nurse’s day.
UiPath software robots are now responsible for this task. They process the data in a fraction of the time, distributing patient results in minutes and consequently freeing up to 18 hours of each IPC nurse’s time each week, and up to 936 hours over the course of a year. As a result, the healthcare professionals can spend more time caring for their patients and less time on repetitive tasks and admin work.
Is there any possibility of error with software robots, compared to humans?
By nature, humans are prone to make mistakes, especially when working under pressure, under strict deadlines and while handling a large volume of data while performing repetitive tasks.
Once taught the process, software robots, on the other hand, will follow the same steps every time without the risk of the inevitable human error. Simply speaking, robots can perform data-intensive tasks more quickly and accurately than humans can.
Which members of staff benefit the most, and what can they do with the time saved?
In the case of Mater Hospital, the IPC unit has adopted a robot for every nurse approach. This means that every nurse in the department has access to a robot to help reduce the burden of their admin work. Rather than spending time entering test results, they can focus on the work that requires their human ingenuity, empathy and skill – taking care of their patients.
In other sectors, the story is no different. Every job will have some repetitive nature to it. Whether that be a finance department processing thousands of invoices a day or simply having to send one daily email. If a task is repetitive and data-intensive, the chances are that a software robot can help. Just like with the nurses in the IPC, these employees can then focus on handling exceptions and on work that requires decision making or creativity - the work that people enjoy doing.
How can software robots most benefit healthcare providers both during a pandemic and beyond?
When the COVID-19 outbreak hit, software robots were deployed to lessen the administrative strain healthcare professionals were facing and give them more time to care for an increased number of patients. With hospitals around the world at capacity, every moment with a patient counted.
Now, the NHS and other healthcare providers face a huge backlog of routine surgeries and procedures following cancellations during the pandemic. In the UK alone, 5 million people are waiting for treatment and it’s estimated that this could cause 6,400 excess deaths by the end of next year if the problem isn’t rectified.
Many healthcare organisations have now acquired the skills needed to deploy automation, therefore it will be easier for them to build more robots to respond to the backlog going forwards. Software robots that had been processing registrations at COVID test sites, for example, could now be taught how to schedule procedures, process patient details or even manage procurement and recruitment to help streamline the processes associated with the backlog. The possibilities are vast.
The technology, however, should not be considered a short-term, tactical and reactive solution that can be deployed in times of crisis. Automation has the power to solve systematic problems that healthcare providers face year-round. Hospital managers should consider the wider challenge of dealing with endless repetitive work that saps the energy of professionals and turns attention away from patient care and discuss how investing in a long-term automation project could help alleviate these issues.
How widely adopted is this technology in healthcare at the moment?
Automation was being used in healthcare around the world before the pandemic, but the COVID-19 outbreak has certainly accelerated the trend.
Automation’s reach is wide. From the NHS Shared Business Service in the UK to the Cleveland Clinic in the US and healthcare organisations in the likes of Norway, India and Canada, we see a huge range of healthcare providers deploying automation technology.
Many healthcare providers, however, are still in the early stages of their journeys or are just discovering automation’s potential because of the pandemic. I expect to see the deployment of software robots in healthcare grow over the coming years as its benefits continue to be realised globally.
How do you see this technology evolving in the future?
If one thing is certain, it’s that the technology will continue to evolve and grow over time – and I believe there will come a point in time when all processes that can be automated, will be automated. This is known as the fully automated enterprise.
By joining all automation projects into one enterprise-wide effort, the healthcare industry can tap into the full benefits of the technology. This will involve software robots becoming increasingly intelligent in order to reach and improve more processes. Integrating the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning into automation, for example, will allow providers to reach non-rule-based processes too.
We are already seeing steps towards this being taken by NHS Shared Business Service, for example. The organisation, which provides non-clinical services to around two-thirds of all NHS provider trusts and every clinical commissioning organisation in the UK, is working to create an entire eco-system of robots. It believes that no automation should be looked at in isolation, but rather the technology should stretch across departments and functions. As such, inefficiencies in the care pathway can be significantly reduced, saving healthcare providers a substantial amount of time and money.