While vaccines save millions of lives each year and are among the most cost-effective health interventions ever developed, about 1.5 million children die each year from vaccine-preventable diseases, according to the World Health Organization. Some factors that contribute to the availability of vaccines globally include unreliable transportation systems and intermittent storage facilities, which make it difficult to preserve high-quality vaccines that require refrigeration.
But with the use of smart technologies, including the Internet of Things (IoT), healthcare and medical device companies are improving ways to keep vaccines stored and protected throughout the supply chain. One great example is the Weka Smart Fridge, which enables clinicians in the field to better manage vaccine distribution, helping them save lives.
“Clinicians in areas of Africa and other regions where power is unstable or inaccessible can use our Smart Fridge to store and dispense vaccines. And the Fridge is small enough that you can put it in a van. So if you can’t bring the people to the vaccine, you can bring the vaccine to the people,” says Alan Lowenstein, COO of Weka Health Solutions.
The Fridge automates vaccine storage and dose dispensing to save time and enhance patient care. It includes remote monitoring services to ensure vaccines are stored at the right temperature, while automatic inventory tracing saves staff time and ensures a reliable vaccine supply. The refrigerator houses each vaccine in its own cartridge, in keeping with required storage protocol by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, access is limited through a small drawer on the front of the Smart Fridge to protect vaccines from temperature change.
The Vaccine Smart Fridge uses an IoT platform that collects real-time data from numerous sensors on every unit to enable 24×7 monitoring and analysis. BlueMetal, the 2016 Microsoft Internet of Things Worldwide Partner of the Year, worked with Weka to develop the IoT-enabled device using Windows 10 IoT Core that keeps vaccines fresh, secured and accounted for. The real-time visualization of vaccine inventory throughout the network enables Weka to understand the vaccination rates at every location. And by using business intelligence capabilities such as those in Azure Machine Learning, organizations can be alerted to upcoming vaccine shortages at specific clinics or in certain areas. For example, if a clinic unexpectedly runs out of a vaccine, the system can let a healthcare worker know there’s a physician’s office a few miles away that has a surplus of that type of vaccine in stock.
Controlled refrigeration and monitoring also helps reduce financial losses. “Physicians generally have $40,000 to $60,000 worth of vaccines in their refrigerators,” says Lowenstein. “If the clinic suffers a power outage or the traditional fridge fails, they risk losing the entire inventory of vaccines.” By using automated processes to manage inventory through IoT sensors, the Fridge can deliver proactive alerts on inventory shortages or changes in temperature.
In addition, Weka estimates that a medical practice that dispenses approximately 400 vaccines per month could reduce human-resource costs by more than $1,000 a month with the Fridge’s monitoring system. This system helps ensure that the first vaccines in the refrigerator are the first that come out, so patients never receive an expired or recalled vaccine, and it reduces the manual task of vaccine management by clinicians.
The Smart Fridge is a great example of how companies can accelerate digital transformation with smart solutions to increase staff efficiency and quality control and automate inventory management. Weka’s Smart Fridge is currently scheduled to go to market at the beginning of 2017.