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Last updated: February 25, 2021

Cold Storage Solutions for Medical Labs

pathology lab cold medical storageAny medical institute needs a pathology lab to carry out investigations on clinical specimens to diagnose a patient and proceed with the treatment or prevention of diseases. The diagnosis and control of diseases is the foundation of modern medicine.

Medical laboratory services are indispensable in the process of medical care. As medicine progresses into the unknown, the related scientific methods and technology development needs will also evolve. Therefore, at the core of the design of such laboratories is future adaptability and compatibility. The designer can achieve a vast set of goals when developing storage solutions for laboratories through modular and high-density storage systems.

An estimated 70% of treatment-related decisions have their bases in lab testing. The tests' scope may vary between a general hospital and a super-specialty hospital, but the underlying functionality remains unchanged. All labs must provide a comprehensive set of analytical and diagnostic tools to conduct tests accurately. By nature, samples will decay or get contaminated with time due to heat and other environmental factors.

Therefore, labs need a solution to store these sensitive items within a temperature- and humidity-controlled environment to prevent or delay the chances of damaging the clinical specimens and life-saving vaccines.

Applied Benefits of Cold Medical Storage

Medical cold storage is a primary asset to a medical facility such as a hospital pathology or research lab. These units are essential to the proper functioning of the hospital. There are many associated benefits of installing the right equipment that you will discover once it is operational.

  • Temperature Monitoring: The refrigerator must maintain steady temperatures. While modern machines are fully capable of doing so, monitoring by a human is necessary. Any fluctuations can warn the attendant of possible faults in the system, and timely fixes can save us the costs and the hassle of restocking.
  • Alarm Systems: Alarm systems warn the attendant about temperature changes that might come with frequent use and other related hazards. Someone might accidentally leave the fridge open, and without the alarm, people might not notice – losing valuable substances.
  • Better Air Flow: By design, the shelves and the airflow system of a medical-grade refrigerator ensure even temperatures in the entire volume of refrigerated space so that stored items receive even cooling on all its surfaces.
  • Access Control: While some cases mandate the use of biometrics or access cards, it is always a good practice to take necessary measures that prevent tampering with the samples, accidental or otherwise. Moreover, the more the number of hands accessing the storage unit, the higher the chances of contamination.
  • Operation during a Power Failure: A power outage can be disastrous for lab storage. Most medical facilities have generators that power the essential equipment, and many medical-grade refrigeration units come with battery backup. What helps is proper insulation that can keep the inside temperature low, even when the backups fail.

Classification of Lab Services

cold storage solutions for medical labsTo fully understand and appreciate lab cold storage scope, we need a baseline of everyday lab operations. We can develop this understanding through the simple classification and definition of its various aspects. The generalized classification of the services offered by a diagnostic laboratory in any medical institute comprises of the following:

  • General Pathology: General pathology borrows from anatomical and clinical pathology to form a singular diagnostic unit.
  • Anatomic Pathology: Anatomic pathology studies the effect of diseases on anatomical structures such as the tissues and cells
  • Clinical Pathology: Clinical pathology studies the microbial infections called clinical microbiology on one hand and hormonal imbalances and toxicity on the other through clinical chemistry.

Other diagnostics areas include lab tests in hematology, which is the study of blood cells, blood banks, reproductive biology, and DNA testing.

Types of Medical Refrigerators

Based on the said classifications, we determine the refrigeration needs specific to the particular groups, which would lead us to the specialized refrigerated storage units. Due to the range of uses that a medical refrigerator provides, there are dedicated models for each use case.

Let us understand them sequentially.

Blood Bank Fridge

Blood storage comes with its regulations as per the guidelines of the respective regulatory bodies in different countries. Blood bank refrigerators need to comply with these rules. These refrigerators typically have separate storage compartments for various blood and blood products for ease of organizing. The most crucial aspect of cold blood storage is steady temperature control to keep the supply safe from harm due to temperature fluctuations.

Explosion-Proof Fridge

Many of the materials used in hospitals are volatile and flammable or use combustible solvents. An explosion-proof fridge is useful in storing these substances to minimize the fire hazard associated with the stored items. By design, they eliminate electrical parts on the inside. An added precaution is access control as the use of volatile substances as intoxicants is on the rise.cold storage medical labs

Chromatography Fridge

Chromatography refers to separating the components of a mixture and is essential to research labs that conduct such studies. Chromatography fridges also need to maintain stable temperatures to store materials and ensure proper research. Clinical and industrial laboratories also need such cold storage systems.

Lab Fridge

A lab fridge is the most common refrigerator used in medical labs. They have every basic functionality that a lab cold storage system needs. The features of a lab fridge include accurate digital displays, alarms, and locks. They are ideal for storing or cooling down medical equipment and samples.

Points to Consider When Choosing Lab Cold Storage

Once you have established the baseline of the product catalog that the provider must meet, you can choose from the range of products based on factors that will decide the ease of operation and reliability of your set-up.

This process would include a broader outlook, considering several legal, design, or engineering aspects. While it is best to consult your supplier, knowing what factors to look at beforehand helps you make an informed choice. Let us observe the most common point individually.

Capacity Requirements

Before considering other factors, it is crucial to analyze the capacity that the lab might require. While designers must provide ample space to store equipment, samples, and medicines, installing a high-capacity fridge would take up essential space and increase maintenance and operational costs.

Another factor that you can't neglect is that overstocking can affect temperature performance. Refrigerators give peak performance between 30 to 80% of the full capacity. Under 30% capacity, the refrigeration unit experiences fluctuations in temperature. Similarly, when the capacity exceeds 80%, the refrigeration system will struggle to maintain a uniform temperature across the entire space. Both these ranges eventually lead to cold and hot spots, damaging the stock.medical lab refrigerator cold storage

Material Treatment

Most lab cold storages are aluminum or stainless steel. Coated mesh wire shelves are also viable as an alternative that provides better airflow and ventilation. These shelves should ideally be resistant to rust formation to prevent bacteria, mold, and mildew buildup. Besides, these storage units must also be easy to clean and defrost so that labs can maintain proper hygiene and sanitization. Lock drawers with alarms are also essential, depending on the stock.

Temperature Control

The standard temperature range for medical lab storage ranges from 2°C to 10°C. Refrigerators typically work between 3 - 7° C, while freezers work in the -50° C and -15° C range. Vaccine storage need not exceed the 2° C to 8° C range. Refrigerators operating below 2 degrees are also available, but they consume more power to maintain the low temperature. Most labs usually prefer digitally controlled refrigerators. However, refrigerators with an analog thermostat are also available.

Regulatory Considerations

Organizations such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) mandate specific standards and compliances that manufacturers must follow. Consequently, designers must ensure uniform temperatures and the temperature controls typical to the stored drugs. Preferably opt for A-A-52150 standards that define the control parameters to maintain the quality except for blood storage, which requires BS 4376-1 standardization.

Space Constraints

high density shelving moveaDesigners must be mindful of the facility's space and layout and choose between the available options based on its specific requirements. This consideration would mean choosing between built-in or freestanding use and the fridge placement with respect to the other equipment and furniture. Another essential factor is ventilation. There must be ample space around the fridge. This information informs the decision to choose between freestanding or built-in refrigerators. Solutions such as mobile racks and high density mobile storages can help save floor space while maximizing storage capacity.

Get the Right Storage Solutions for Your Lab

The hospital lab-setting needs scheduled maintenance and monitoring. One must remember that the medicine, equipment, and samples are only effective when stored under appropriate conditions. Investing in the right cold storage systems for labs will save the hospital both cost and inconvenience by keeping drugs under controlled conditions.

Southwest Solutions Group® provides design and installation services for high-density storage systems in refrigerators, freezers, and cold storage applications. Our experts will help you find the right high-density system depending on your unique storage requirements. For more information or to speak with a specialist, call us at 1-866-447-9409 or contact us today.

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