Oftentimes medical specimens, medications, and tests must be maintained within a specific temperature range during transport. Changes in temperature can ruin the materials.
To keep those items at the necessary temperature in transport, medical couriers should employ careful temperature-controlled logistics practices. This guide covers our process for safely transporting temperature-controlled materials.
What is temperature-controlled logistics?
Temperature-controlled logistics utilizes special equipment to ensure temperature-sensitive products are kept at the right temperature from pick-up to drop-off. This includes coolers, ice packs, and/or dry ice to maintain cold temperatures as well as thermometers and sensors to monitor specimen temperature.
When it comes to temperature-sensitive materials, there is no room for error. As such, temperature-controlled logistics takes great care and communication to keep items safe as they move from one place to another.
Types of temperature-controlled transport
Ambient or Room Temperature Specimens
Technically speaking, the term "room temperature" indicates the temperature inside a specific building or room, while "ambient temperature" means the temperature of the surrounding area.
For medical couriers, ambient temperature is what we focus on, particularly during the summer months, when temperatures can get quite hot inside vehicles.
The ambient temperature that should be maintained is between 15º to 25º C (59º to 77º F).
Some specimens must be kept refrigerated following collection to avoid changes that will affect the test results. Laboratory refrigerators are kept at 4°C, with an acceptable range of 2-8°C. Refrigerated specimens must be maintained between 2-8ºC during transportation.
Methods for transporting specimens needing to be refrigerated include:
- Insulated coolers that must have a tight-fitting lid
- Plastic cooling blocks
- Electric refrigeration systems in the vehicle to properly maintain the temperature inside the container
- A barrier between the specimens and any refrigerant to avoid specimens getting too cold
Some specimens will be labeled “frozen” and must be kept frozen immediately following collection, during transport, and must be placed into a freezer in the testing laboratory. Laboratory freezers are kept at a temperature of 0°C to -23°C.
Specimens that need to be kept frozen during the transportation process can be placed in heavy cardboard cartons with dry ice or insulated coolers and dry ice. Specimens must not come into direct contact with the to avoid “spot freezing.” (It's important to note that if using dry ice to maintain frozen specimens, container lids should not be tight fitting.)
Optimal temperatures for different materials
Different materials have different temperature requirements. It’s important as a medical courier to know what temperature you must maintain in transit for any given specimen or other sensitive material. Here are a few common temperature standards:
- Pathology Samples should be kept between 15–30ºC
- Blood Samples – some should be kept between 2–8ºC, 15–30ºC, or -80–0ºC, depending on how the lab prepares it
- Urine should be transported at either 2–8ºC or 15–30ºC, depending on the time it will take to test it.
- Medications should be kept at either 2–8ºC or 15–30ºC, depending on the type.
Monitoring temperature in-transit
Over the last several years, the ability to monitor temperatures during transit – in real time – have become increasingly effective and affordable. Sensors, often placed inside the transport containers and vehicles, connect to an app on the drivers phones and can alert the driver (and dispatchers) if the temperature falls out of compliance. If that happens the driver should take appropriate steps like adding more dry ice to frozen coolers or more ice packs to refrigerated coolers.
Critical considerations of each touchpoint
Upon pick-up, medical couriers must be aware of the temperature requirements for the specimens they are handling, and that the specimens meet the requirements before assuming custody. This includes ensuring that outer containers are properly packaged, labeled, and in the condition they should be (ambient, refrigerated or frozen). Improperly packaged materials must be addressed before being transported.
Ensuring temperature-sensitive specimens stay unharmed in-transit is priority number one for a medical courier. Vehicles and transport containers must have climate control systems in place. Cold storage containers must be carefully positioned in a stable and secure spot in the vehicle. And drivers must check temperatures regularly to ensure things are within safe limits.
Unloading and delivering temperature-sensitive materials is a critical final step in the process. Drivers must take careful steps to minimize exposure to external temperatures. There must be a temperature-controlled drop-off location set up ahead of time that the driver is trained to access. Communicating with on-site staff and acquiring proper acknowledgement of the condition of specimens at drop off are all essential functions of temperature controlled deliveries.
When you’re looking for a courier company to handle your temperature-sensitive shipments, make sure they have the experience and procedures in place to do so with the best care. Be sure to ask what temperature-controlled transport options they provide and weigh that against your needs.