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Are there opportunities for improvement in medicine storage at high street and community pharmacies?

Within every pharmacy there exists the need to store temperature-sensitive medicines properly, and to ensure that proper processes are in place to control access to restricted medicines.

In the context of most pharmacies outside formal healthcare institutions like hospitals, we are talking about basic fridges and freezers, similar to the consumer units we might have at home. The significant difference is that the value of inventory and risk profile is far higher, and the need to monitor these fridges and freezers for temperature stability and access control is far more important.

For ambient storage, the only security might be a simple lock and key to a controlled cupboard, or for a pharmacy fridge a retro-fit DIY fitted lock, should it contain restricted or controlled medicines.

Is this enough?  When today, with the rise in online prescription drugs sold illegally or of dubious provenance, shouldn’t retail high street pharmacies stand out as examples of safety, storage and control.  The retail pharmacist can set an increasing high standard of care, thereby reinforcing the existing high levels of trust in their services.  

Independent inspection focused on paper records

During an inspection visit the Inspector will examine how a pharmacy operates, with the aim of ensuring that the supply of medicines and the provision of pharmacy services to patients from a registered pharmacy are safe and appropriate. These are based largely around written forms and evidence.

The inspections are unable to view activity such as, tracking, movement, who did what, where and when, in between the times recorded. The inspection is chiefly concerned with record keeping and, providing evidence forms filled out are supplied, that’s effectively it.

Are patients or the community at risk?

At home, we have all experienced a sudden fridge or freezer failure, maybe a power cut, and we make choices about what we can save and what we have to dispose of.

If you are a pharmacist or pharmacy assistant, how do you actually know if your vaccines or medicines are safe or not? A simple air temperature sensor is not necessarily the best indicator of product temperature, and perfectly viable stock may be discarded for safety’s sake. The opposite problem could be that bad stock being kept and risking patient’s health.

Doors not being shut properly is also an extremely common issue leading to a rise in temperature and stock loss, a simple door switch monitor could solve all this.

What’s needed is a truly independent system where paper records cannot be recreated or lost, where texts cannot be deleted and emails erased.

Is it time for independent monitoring of temperature-sensitive medicines in the community?

The simple answer is yes, but not just with passive monitoring.  To create a truly fail-safe system, the Pharmacist needs a personal alarm call to alert them to a failing fridge or freezer.  The enables them to take action before a minor issue becomes a costly problem. The storage of vaccines, bloods, insulin and a huge list of temperature-sensitive medicines don’t just become inactive, they can become outright dangerous if used, putting lives at risk.

Simple digital trackers mounted on fridges, freezers and doors which can record the time, duration, who and for how long can alert the pharmacist to unauthorised access to controlled medicines. Access within open hours, or outside expected times, can indicate unusual activity.

It’s therefore important that an alert or alarm that triggers a corrective action report needs a proper audit trail. This is unavoidable and investigating the cause is mandatory as well as detailing the corrective action.  All these processes need to be track-able and auditable for quality control processes in order to maintain patient safety and to provide healthy outcomes.

How can technology support community pharmacy?

With unprecedented pressure on our overall healthcare system, and a new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care in post, Matt Hancock, it can be expected there will be a renewed focus the role of the Pharmacist in supporting community patient care. 

Pharmacists up down the country will become more central to our healthcare requirements, supporting GPs and nurses as trusted partners.  In order to resource this trend effectively without additional burden on stretched budgets or the tax-payer, technology and automation must play a significant role in helping external pharmacists meet these new challenges.

Tutela is the world’s largest independent healthcare and life science temperature monitoring and data insights platform for critical process control of temperature sensitive biological inventory and products.

Tutela’s technology can remotely monitor every fridge or freezer door, temperature, ambient and humidity. In every room, ward, department, hospital or remote clinic all under one account. Protected, secure with full reporting and action audit trail.

Our goals are simple, with independent monitoring of the healthcare and drug development activity, we aim to Improve health outcomes, protect reputations and support your team

For more information on ways to purchase Tutela’s world leading temperature and data monitoring products and services contact mhobby@tutelamedical.com or visit our website http://www.tutelamedical.com/