Benefits of automated laboratory environmental monitoring

Aug. 24, 2016

For healthcare organizations, ensuring that collected lab samples are stored properly is critical to guaranteeing their accuracy and improving overall patient care. For the most precise test results, the environments where samples are stored must remain constant and stringent. Inadequately stored samples can lead to product waste and misused staff time and labor to recollect these samples. Compromised patient satisfaction can also be a result of poorly stored samples, as additional specimen collection can create patient concern.

Many healthcare facilities require staff to manually check laboratory environmental conditions such as refrigerator temperatures at scheduled intervals throughout the day. With a manual data collection method in place, temperatures can easily fluctuate between recordings. If storage conditions reach unsafe temperatures in between these recordings, lab personnel may never know if the quality of the sample has been compromised — a major safety and quality concern.

To eliminate this concern, many healthcare organizations are using wireless temperature and environmental monitoring technology tools to receive 24/7 alerts if storage conditions are approaching set parameters. These alerts allow staff to respond to unsafe storage conditions immediately, reducing product waste and limiting the number of times lab samples need to be recollected.

Accuracy and consistency

Few healthcare facilities have the staff to manually record laboratory storage conditions more frequently than the four-hour intervals required by a transfusion medicine department, causing varying storage condition levels to go undetected. Busy staff members may not notice a broken refrigerator compression unit or a freezer door accidentally left ajar until it is too late. As a result of this instance, the lab samples would need to be discarded and recollected due to uncertainties about the duration of the exposure and quality assurance protocols.

Automated wireless temperature and environmental monitoring solutions offer real-time observation of temperature-sensitive lab assets and specimens. When paired with real-time location system (RTLS) technology, this platform has the ability to offer healthcare facilities around-the-clock environmental condition monitoring, leading to more consistent and accurate data collection. Laboratories have the ability to view refrigeration groups at the application level and receive an alert when conditions such as temperature or humidity levels are approaching unsafe points.

Alerts are customizable to fit a healthcare facility’s unique needs. Wireless environmental sensors can notify staff via audible chirping or flashing LED and strobe lights. Otherwise, alerts can be sent through email or to pagers and mobile devices.

Workflow and compliance

Streamlining the reporting and compliance processes allows for employees to spend less time manually collecting the condition data and more time running diagnostic tests and analyzing results. For major healthcare facilities that often have a large queue of patients waiting for their lab samples to be evaluated, this not only saves staff time but decreases patient wait time — directly impacting overall patient experience and satisfaction.

Labs that have implemented automatic environmental and temperature monitoring solutions have more confidence and an overall easier time with compliance reporting. These systems can generate a variety of useful reports on multiple units whenever needed. Before printing or exporting, lab personnel can view an example of the report. When inspectors arrive, staff can quickly and easily present them with automated and complete compliance reports for every refrigeration unit or lab utility room.

Preserving samples in-transit

As diagnostic specimens are often transported from outpatient facilities to centralized labs that contain more sophisticated equipment, it’s critical that these samples are properly stored and maintained during every step of their journey. Implementing a wireless environmental and temperature monitoring solution can ensure that the environmental conditions remain safe and consistent during the transportation process.

To constantly monitor and record environmental conditions, a small sensor can attach seamlessly inside the transportation cooler or refrigerated vehicle including the lab samples. This allows laboratory personnel to automatically receive the environmental condition data that was collected during travel once the samples return to the laboratory facility and the sensor reconnects to the IT network. Staff can gain a complete understanding of how the samples were maintained and whether or not any specimens need to be discarded due to improper exposure.

Choosing the right vendor

As there are many wireless environmental and temperature monitoring vendors on the market, it is vital for lab directors to choose the correct one to meet their healthcare facilities’ needs. Many lab leaders prioritize selecting a partner that continues to provide support post-installation. As the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) requires regular calibrations, having a vendor that delivers recalibration and certification support provides a facility with the peace-of-mind that the technology investment is going to continue to meet its needs in the future.

Lorn Clancey serves as Director of Environmental Monitoring Solutions for Pennsylvania-based CenTrak.