A smart vaccine fridge is no match against the bean counters

June 1, 2018, Dr Chee L Khoo

Imagine if your vaccine fridge sends you a message if the fridge temperature veered outside its set range of 2-8 degrees Celsius. You would say “now that’s technology”. And imagine you could do all that for a little more than A$100. Well, that’s exactly how my vaccine fridge at the practice is “wired” up to do. Would you like to know how?

Before I can explain how you can easily set this up, you need to go with me on a long journey. A painful one I must add. A couple of months ago, the practice suffered an area wide power failure for 9 hours. Naturally, the vaccines were not usable. Being an honest practitioner, I informed the powers to be and my vaccine account with NSW Health was instantly deactivated. What followed was both long and frustrated.

We were told that we needed a temperature datalogger to confirm that the fridge’s temperature range is within 2-8 degrees. It didn’t matter that the issue at hand was an external one (the power failure) and my fridge was previously “certified” to operate correctly. Nope, I needed a datalogger for 72 hours to confirm that. Luckily, the PHN came to the rescue and we produce the requested data. Sorry, the rules say you need a permanent data logger in the fridge that checks the temperature every 5 minutes. Well, why would you need the 72 hour data at the outset? Grrr.

The powers to be suggested that we purchase a datalogger for $300 and all will be fine. If you were to search on ebay for a temperature datalogger, you can pick one up for between $10-25. I decided to go high tech and purchase a wireless temperature tag from http://wirelesstag.net/. Sensor + tag manager + delivery from USA for ~US$100.

You pop the tag into the fridge, plug the tag manager into your computer network and install the app on your phone. The three gadgets talk to each other without much input from you. You set the sensor to check the fridge temperature every 5 mins and to inform you if the temperature veers outside 2-8 degrees. Bob’s your uncle.

We download the temperature graph and data every morning and store it on the cloud. Sorry, you still have to manually record the temperature on a paper folder every morning, the bean counters said. Someone forgot to tell the powers to be that we now have computers.

With the sensor all set, we provided the powers to be with another graph of temperatures for 72 hours. It confirm what we said all along – the fridge operated between 2-7 degrees. That is what the fridge was set to do. It’s a special vaccine fridge. That should do the trick, shouldn’t it?

Not so simple. A few more hoops to jump yet because the graph didn’t look like the one they were after. It was too small, too big, couldn’t read the axes, could not print on their printer etc. In the end, it took another week or so before we got our first shipment of vaccines and another week before we got our fluvaccines because someone at NSW Health forgot to un-freeze our account.

All up we were without vaccines for 4-5 weeks! The installation of the sensors was easy. But the journey was long and painful.