Most people don’t think much about environmental monitoring, but it is crucial in healthcare and hospital settings. Hospitals use environmental monitoring to track and record various conditions, such as temperature. In a place where infectious diseases and many other illnesses are treated, hospitals rely on environmental monitoring as part of their daily functioning.
Environmental Monitoring Explained
Although the term “environmental monitoring” suggests what the process is about, more precisely, it is the monitoring of environmental conditions in a specific location. This is far more than something like an outdoor temperature thermometer. It is a precise set of readings that are taken by a device that is highly sensitive and stores that data to be downloaded for reference.
The tool used to conduct environmental monitoring is a data logger. It is a portable piece of electronics that can be programmed to sample conditions on a set schedule. Inside the data logger is a microprocessor where the collected data is stored. Data loggers can send information to computers and smartphones for review or analysis.
The data logger can also be programmed to “watch” for unusual changes in environmental conditions. For example, if one of these devices is set to trigger an alarm when the temperature in a monitored area drops to a certain level, it will alert someone that there is an issue that requires human intervention to correct. This reduces the loss of inventory.
Where Hospitals Require Environmental Monitoring
Conditions within hospital settings must be carefully monitored. In fact, some sections of a functioning hospital may need to have and maintain much cooler temperatures than one might assume. They include the following areas:
1 – Operating Rooms
Hospitals consistently maintain relatively cool temperatures in operating rooms; in fact, operating theaters are considered some of the coldest rooms in a hospital. Hospitals have a certain set of temperature and humidity parameters they must follow in ORs, set by the Centers for Disease Control and monitored by the Joint Commission on Accreditation in Healthcare Organizations (the Joint Commission). Cool temperatures prevail in ORs because of OR staff work beneath extremely hot, bright lights. Surgeons and surgical nurses often additionally wear headlamps. Operating room personnel also have layers of attire: regular clinical clothing plus gowns, masks, and gloves. Cooler operating room temperatures help to keep them comfortable and reduce sweating. They also reduce the potential for condensation on walls and ceilings, which would render sterile rooms unsterile. Finally, cool temperatures reduce the ability of bacteria to thrive, which can improve patient outcomes.
2 – Laboratories
Another location in your local hospital that is on the chilly end of the thermometer is the lab. This is where blood, urine, spinal fluid, tissue samples—any sample of fluid or tissue taken by doctors or specialists are stored and then later analyzed. While many hospitals send samples out for analysis, immediate analysis is also often required, for example during cancer surgery to ensure clear margins. As a result, hospitals have their own labs. The lab is kept cold for a couple of reasons. One is to keep machinery or other pieces of equipment operating smoothly. These machines work best in cooler conditions. Another reason is to discourage bacterial or viral transmission.
3 – Clinics
Many hospitals have an on-site clinic where you will be able to see a specialist who you would have been referred to by your family physician. The clinic is kept cooler than most other parts of the hospital for the same basic reason as the OR and lab. Cooler rooms reduce the infection rate. However, the clinic will also have a cold storage area where medications, vaccines, and other perishable medical supplies are stored. Vaccines can become unstable in changing environmental conditions. According to Dickson, these changes can render medications useless as a result.
4 – Pharmacies
Another on-site service that may be present in your hospital is a pharmacy. This provides the convenience of being able to see a specialist and fill a prescription all under the same roof. The pharmacy area accessed by the public may be slightly cooler than the rest of the building but in the back of the pharmacy will be a cold storage area. This is where vaccines and various other medical supplies are stored. The reasons for the cooler temperatures are the same as for most of the other locations already discussed – to prevent infection and to keep the medications stable.
5 – Food Services
Hospital food is an essential part of patient care at hospitals. Patients’ meals are often carefully selected and produced to provide you with the proper amount of nutrition-related to where you are on your healing journey. All the food used in hospital meals must be in cold storage to prevent spoilage or excessive bacterial growth. The temperatures used in food storage areas are much cooler than in the OR, lab, clinic, or pharmacy. That is to prevent bacteria growth that can damage food and make people sicker than they are.
Hospitals Follow High Standards In Environmental Monitoring
Due to the nature of the products being stored and the conditions required to reduce infection and keep medications stable, hospitals are held to a very high standard of compliance. In the US, the Joint Commission is responsible for promulgating rules and ensuring follow-through by hospitals. This is why it is so important for hospitals to have the correct monitoring systems in place to track ongoing conditions that can be reviewed and analyzed frequently to confirm compliance. This is where a data logger will provide the most reliable means of recording and storing this type of data.
Hospitals function under unusual environmental conditions – unusual compared to most other large venues. They keep specific areas of the facility colder than other areas for very good reasons. In a hospital, you want to reduce the risk of infection whenever possible, and bacteria grow slower in cold conditions. Also, specialized equipment operates better in cooler temperatures. Operating rooms are kept cool as are the cold storage lockers in pharmacies to prevent vaccines and other medications from becoming unstable and useless as a result. Even the food used in hospital meals has to be stored in coolers to keep the perishable items from spoiling. These complex environmental conditions demonstrate the importance of using instruments like data loggers to ensure the health and safety of the people and patients in healthcare settings.