Wireless temperature monitoring systems: things to consider

Aug. 18, 2014

Anyone who has worked in a clinical laboratory setting knows the critical importance of temperature monitoring to ensure quality for testing and safety purposes. Anyone who has worked in a lab that relies on manual temperature monitoring is aware of the challenges that can present: it can be time-consuming, inconsistent, and costly. Inconsistent temperatures can threaten sample integrity, forcing labs to replace any samples and products deemed unusable after being exposed to faulty temperatures and thus leading to increased costs. In addition, chart recorders are problematic, with frequent pen jams, lost charts, missing corrective action information needed for regulatory inspections, and lack of remote alarming capability. 

Clinical laboratories need to measure a range of physical parameters such as humidity, pressure, and air flow. All of these are important, but temperature is at the heart of these parameters. Precise temperatures need to be maintained at all times to protect inventory and product integrity. 

Maintaining proper and consistent temperatures in the lab is an extremely time-consuming task that can handicap workflow efficiency. For that reason, many labs are adopting wireless temperature monitoring systems. They are finding that the initial investment in the automated system “pays for itself” over time.

Wireless temperature monitoring

Wireless temperature monitoring systems passively monitor temperatures in key points throughout the laboratory by means of a temperature probe connected to a transmitter. A wireless receiver collects temperature readings from each location and reports the data to a local server or cloud-based network where the data can be stored and analyzed. 

One of the most attractive features offered in wireless temperature monitoring systems is the ability to provide a prompt alert when temperatures fall out of specified ranges. Many systems provide notifications via email or text messaging to help ensure the alert is seen and addressed as quickly as possible. In addition, systems may provide an alarm escalation feature, meaning that if the first point of contact does not acknowledge the warning, a second individual can be notified. 

When an alarm is reacted to, many systems allow users to document any corrective actions that were implemented. This information is saved to the server or cloud-based network used by the wireless monitoring system. 

Key information is viewable through the automated documentation feature of any wireless temperature monitoring system. Readings for temperature, humidity, pressure, and air flow can be collected over time and stored within the system’s corresponding data base. Users can access compiled data and review it through a variety of reports. Reporting features assist in highlighting trends or providing alarm histories. Many systems offer the ability to create custom reports and export them in common formats such as PDF, Excel, or Word.

Making the switch

With numerous suppliers offering similar systems, due diligence must be observed when researching and comparing features during the selection process. 

Monitoring systems that create reports from consistent data capture and date-stamped monitoring of temperature make audits and healthcare compliance more efficient. A vital feature of any wireless monitoring system is the ability to provide detailed data-collecting and report-generating capabilities. The software should be built and based on meeting the FDA 21 CFR Part 11: electronic signature that has served as the de facto standard for assurance of traceability of data.

Hard-wired transmitters that are more expensive to install are a hurdle to scalability, so determining the optimal amount of equipment and the appropriate number of monitoring locations is important. Wireless temperature transmitters are battery-powered and less costly to install, so adding on will be a cost-saving benefit.

When choosing a supplier, lab managers should consider which system is most user-friendly and provides all the necessary reporting capabilities to meet compliance and inspections. Reviewing referrals from vendors and determining what training and after-sales support they offer is key.

Involving the IT department is also necessary to determine how the system will be installed and complement new or existing networks. IT is likely to be concerned with utilizing wireless radio frequencies in the laboratory that are compatible and non-interfering with other wireless technologies utilized in the hospital. It is a benefit to IT to have a number of radio options from a supplier in order to maximize the options. The WIFI 802.11 b/g/n communication protocol is typically the wireless device communication protocol utilized in hospitals for communication. If WIFI technology is chosen, it is important that the wireless devices and hardware utilized provide the highest level of enterprise security.

System applications

Although temperature observation is the number-one application for monitoring in the laboratory, a number of other applications can benefit from an automated, wireless monitoring system.

For example, CO2 percent values in incubators are regulated to optimize PH growth conditions for microbiological and tissue growth. The automated monitoring and recording of CO2 values via wireless devices can augment local incubator alarms and provide continuous, real-time CO2 values with the ability to generate a remote alarm 24/7, including times when laboratory personnel are not present.

Air velocity for the hoods, test tube rack adaptors for monitoring temperatures, and power detection devices that indicate a loss of power are also constructive wireless applications. Lab leaders should consider the improvements made in temperature probe technology to take advantage of these offerings. Typical probe setups use a glycol solution to serve as a buffering mechanism for the probe to eliminate air temperature fluctuations and false alarms due to frequent opening and closing of storage devices. A few suppliers offer a liquid glycol alternative and use a solid state simulator with an embedded thermistor with similar thermal buffering characteristics as glycol. The solid simulator eliminates the need for glycol MSDS sheets and the potential for glycol spills.

Mark Donovan is the Director of Corporate Accounts and Healthcare Distribution at Cooper-Atkins Corporation, headquartered in Middlefield, Connecticut.