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Cloud-based ​​Temperature and Environmental Monitoring for Healthcare: An Inside Look

Environmental monitoring is important in several aspects of healthcare facility operations. For example, the temperature and humidity in critical care spaces, like operating rooms and ICUs, must be controlled for patient safety and comfort, and to maximize energy efficiency. Continuous monitoring is also an integral part of the equipment used to store temperature-sensitive materials like vaccines, pharmaceuticals, blood, and tissue samples. 

The methods that are used to monitor the temperature in these critical spaces vary from completely manual to highly automated. The industry is trending towards the latter, with many healthcare facilities implementing cloud-based temperature monitoring. In these systems, remote IoT sensors transmit temperature data in real-time to a central hub, where it is monitored, processed, and archived. 

In this article, we’ll talk about the benefits of cloud-based systems, how they work, and touch on the Dickson product offerings in this area. 

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Why is Environmental Temperature Important to the Care of the Client?

In a healthcare setting, there are several areas where environmental monitoring is critical for patient safety and material handling. Here are a few of the most common examples:

  • Temperature in critical care areas. In operating rooms, ICUs, and newborn nurseries, among others, good temperature control is needed to maintain patient health and comfort. Furthermore, hospitals use about 2.5 times the energy of other commercial buildings, and close monitoring of ambient temperature contributes to the efficient operation of HVAC equipment. 
  • Humidity in procedure rooms. Humidity monitoring is important for two reasons. First, excessive humidity presents the risk of bacterial growth. However, it must be kept above critical levels to prevent static discharge, which can damage sensitive electronic equipment like surgical robotics. Recommended ranges for humidity and temperature in specific areas of healthcare facilities are given by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) in their Standard 170.
  • Vaccine storage. Many pharmaceuticals are temperature-sensitive, with vaccines being a classic example. Vaccines must be stored within specified ranges, otherwise they risk losing potency (typically 2 to 8 °C, -50 to -15 °C, or even lower for some of the recently developed COVID-19 vaccines). This topic is discussed in detail in the CDC’s vaccine storage and handling toolkit
  • Blood and tissue storage. Like vaccines, these materials are highly temperature-sensitive. Facilities that store human blood and tissue specimens require dependable, continuous temperature monitoring to preserve the integrity of these extremely valuable or even irreplaceable materials. Blood banking represents a particular challenge since the most common blood products all require different storage temperatures (whole blood and packed red blood cells, platelets, plasma, and cryoprecipitate AHF).

These are some of the many examples where temperature monitoring is critical in hospitals and healthcare settings. Cloud-based temperature monitoring systems represent the best-known method for maximizing efficiency and dependability while minimizing the potential for human error. 

Furthermore, these automated systems greatly reduce the unnecessary burden and distraction of manual environmental monitoring from clinical staff, so they are free to focus on more critical tasks. 


What is the Purpose of Temperature Monitoring?

Forms of Temperature Monitoring

The methods for temperature monitoring have evolved significantly over the years, generally tracking with advances in microelectronics and wireless communications. 

In the earliest approaches, temperature readings were recorded manually from thermometers by onsite staff, at preset intervals (at the start and end of a shift, for example). More advanced temperature sensors can store the minimum and maximum temperatures during the shift in memory. This is a relatively inefficient approach, since it is susceptible to human error, and needlessly distracts clinical staff from more critical tasks. 

Further iterations of monitoring equipment included chart recorders, and later USB-based digital data loggers (DDLs). These tools provide longer, more detailed data records, but still require manual downloading of data or changing paper charts. Of the two, DDLs are the less expensive and labor-intensive option. 

The current state of the art is a cloud-based system that integrates many IoT sensors into a single network. 

What is IoT Temperature Monitoring?

In an IoT system, temperature and humidity are measured by remote sensors placed throughout the facility that communicate back to a central hub. The data can then be accessed and processed from anywhere by connecting to the hub, for example by using the DicksonOne software tool. Communication can be wireless, through WiFi or long-range RF, or by a wired ethernet connection, depending on your existing infrastructure. 

At the heart of the temperature sensor is a material that has an electrical response to temperature, commonly a thermistor, RTD (resistance temperature detector), or thermocouple. When the temperature changes, these materials generate an electrical signal, either a voltage or a change in electrical resistance. This signal is converted to a temperature (based on the calibration of the sensor), which is then transmitted to the central hub.

Digital data logging, which includes the IoT-based systems that are the focus of this article, has been recognized as the gold standard by the CDC and WHO. In some cases, a digital system for continuous temperature monitoring is mandated by regulation, such as in the storage units used as part of the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program. 

Benefits of Data Tracking with a Cloud-Based System

Earlier in this article, we listed a few of the advantages of a modern monitoring system. One key feature of this type of monitoring is a continuous, detailed data stream from every sensor. Here are some of the benefits of that type of data tracking:

    • A real-time data stream means that you can set up custom alerts to be sent out when specific limits are reached. These alerts can be targeted to the personnel who can resolve the issue fastest. 
    • If a temperature excursion in a freezer or refrigerator takes place, having a complete, detailed temperature record during the excursion helps with determining the final disposition of the affected material (in consultation with the manufacturer and any other stakeholders)
    • The well-organized, time-stamped data record greatly simplifies audits. This is especially true when regulations require storing data for a fixed time period. 

Why Choose Dickson for Temperature and Environmental Monitoring

Dickson has a full line of temperature monitoring hardware and software, making it easy to find a solution that matches your application. Our equipment includes stand-alone USB data loggers appropriate for single-point applications, up through enterprise-level solutions that can be implemented effectively across entire hospital networks. 

In the area of cloud-based temperature monitoring, the DicksonOne system integrates a network of IoT sensors with a web- or app-based software tool. In this system, remote sensors upload data in real-time to the cloud, where it can be accessed through a convenient user interface. 

The key advantages of this type of monitoring system include:

  • Real-time access to data from anywhere
  • The ability to track the characteristics of individual sensors, including monitoring history and calibration status
  • Customizable alarm limits and alarm response protocols including alerts sent by phone, email, or SMS text
  • Data organization and archiving designed with regulatory compliance in mind

We’ll talk about a few of these in more detail later in the article. 

The DicksonOne system provides all of the advantages of cloud-based temperature monitoring, through an interface that allows users to quickly identify and resolve problems across the monitoring network. Adding new sensors to an existing network is easy, making the system highly scalable.  


Conclusions

Cloud-based temperature monitoring is a growing trend in hospital and other healthcare settings, driven by its ability to improve client safety, efficiency, and safeguarding of high-value materials. These systems are made up of distributed IoT sensors linked together using a software package. 

We provide a wide range of products to fit your needs, including DicksonOne, a state-of-the-art cloud-based remote monitoring solution with integrated hardware and software. 

Questions about implementing a cloud-based monitoring system? Contact the experts at Dickson.