Vaccine Smart-Fridge Aims to Make Drug Storage Foolproof

By combining sensor-enabled, purpose-built refrigerators and freezers with cloud-based software to control inventory and manage safety alerts, Weka Health Solutions says it is making vaccine management easy and safe for physicians' offices.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor

"It's like a Pez dispenser," Lowenstein says, explaining the inside of the refrigerator and the user interface. Each type of drug is stored in a separate cartridge built into one of the fridge's drawers. The drawer holding the ordered drug pops open when the worker opens the refrigerator door.

Talyst developed the software interface, using the Windows 10 operating system, that runs on an on-premise gateway. This collects data from temperature sensors inside the appliance and from sensors that track the positions of the appliance's door, each cartridge's door (to monitor each time it is opened and closed) and the cartridge inside each drawer (which indicates the number of vials or pre-filled syringes remaining within, since the cartridge becomes smaller as each unit is removed). The gateway forwards this data to Blue Metal's platform, running on Microsoft's Azure IoT Suite, with which incoming sensor messages and inventory updates are all analyzed and used to update the vaccine-tracking system, based on inputs into the tablet and doors' status in the appliance. The system alerts onsite personnel to any problems, such as a unit's door being left ajar.

The tablet shows a list of selected vaccines and the worker confirms or amends the order.
The software deducts each drug unit from inventory based on a health-care worker's request, followed by that vaccine's respective drawer opening and then closing. When a specific drug is running low, the system can automatically order replacements. If any of the medications being stored are nearing their expiration date, re-orders are triggered based on the amount available on hand. And if a specific vaccine is recalled, the tracking system can order replacements and alert employees to remove the drug from refrigerators or freezers.

To add more inventory to the appliance, a health-care worker uses the tablet to note that he or she is restocking supplies. The system directs that individual to a specific empty drawer in the appliance. The worker scans a bar code printed on the drug package—vaccines generally come in 10-packs—and the software instructs him or her to open the package and place a single unit into the receptacle in each empty cartridge inside the drawer. The cartridge is designed so that it can hold only the allotted number of units inside a full package of drugs; as such, drawers holding vaccines that come in 10-packs can hold only 10 units.

Weka Health Solutions designed the Vaccine Smart-Fridge, Lowenstein says, to enable physicians to ensure that vaccines are stored at a consistent, safe temperature and that an adequate inventory is always on hand. He adds that an internal study performed by a pharmaceutical company shows that only a third of doctors' offices in the United States offer adult vaccines for diseases such as shingles. Weka Health Solutions' goal is to encourage more physicians' offices—whether they serve infants, children or adults—to offer vaccines by ensuring that storage and inventory control of the high-value perishables is easy and accurate.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this article revealed the name of the pharmaceutical company whose study shows that only a third of doctors' offices offer adult vaccines, but it has been removed per the request of Weka Health Solutions. An earlier version of this article also failed to mention two other partners--MDCI Automation and Talyst--and the roles those firms played in the development of the appliances.

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