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July 27, 2017

The Real ROI of Our Virtual Buffer Vial

Written by Jason Sroka | Pharmacy Safety, Connected Facility

In the first two posts of this series, we discussed the challenges associated with physical buffer vials and SmartSense’s solution - the Virtual Buffer Vial (VBV), a patented modeling approach that simulates actual product temperature and eliminates the need for physical buffers.

Using physical buffer vials combined with manual temperature monitoring to meet regulatory requirements presents a multitude of challenges for pharmacies including reduced shelf space, a risk of product loss due to buffer spillage, and the time and resource costs of having someone (generally a pharmacist) manually examine and record temperature readings.

Our modeling solution, in addressing all these challenges, has created immense value for our clients across all of these areas. Let’s take a deeper look at each of those areas as it applies to one of our major pharmacy clients.


In the retail pharmacy industry, fridge and freezer space is at a premium. Physical buffers take up valuable space that could otherwise be used to store medications or vaccines. Our VBV solution eliminates the need for physical buffers, freeing up precious space in the fridge. We know that it saves space, but we wanted to know, just how much?

A physical buffer vial is connected to our wireless sensor and must remain upright, therefore requiring it to be stored directly on the shelf. The space taken up by the buffer vial and the wireless sensor adds up to 9.75 in2 of shelf space per fridge. Using the VBV software instead, to simulate product temperature, eliminates the need for our wireless sensor to sit directly on a shelf. The sensor can then be mounted to the bottom of a rack, freeing up 100% of that shelf space for medication and vaccine storage.

In the case of one of our major pharmacy clients, we monitor nearly 43,000 pharmacy fridges and freezers. By employing VBV and eliminating physical buffer vials, we saved them over 415,000 inof shelf space, across all their locations. That’s a LOT of extra space for medication and vaccines.


In addition to shelf space, glycol buffer vials pose a risk because they can spill and potentially compromise medications or packaging in the fridge. By using the VBV and eliminating physical buffer vials, you can also effectively eliminate the risk of product loss associated with glycol spills. Now, you might be asking yourself, how big of a risk is it really?

On average, a buffer vial has a volume of 3.375 in3 or approximately 0.016 gallons of glycol. That may not seem like a large amount, but multiplied across all locations, it adds up. By implementing the VBV, we were able to save our pharmacy client over 675 gallons of glycol across all of their locations.


The most valuable assets in a pharmacy are the pharmacists themselves, and a pharmacist’s  time is best spent assisting patients.

However, without continuous monitoring, pharmacists have to manually check the temperature of every fridge twice daily. All of those measurements need to be stored and maintained in case a site inspection is performed or to address a forensic evaluation in the case that bad medicine (or ineffective vaccines) are used by consumers. That adds up to a lot of time checking temperatures and managing paper records rather than helping patients. But just how much time?

Before deploying our continuous monitoring solution, our pharmacy client was required to manually check their equipment, twice daily. That means across all their locations; they were taking over 85,500 temperature measurements per day. Assuming each reading took 1 minute to check, record, and then subsequently manage for long-term storage and accessibility, by implementing our solution, we saved our client over 1,085 man-months worth of time in the first year of operation. That’s a LOT of time that could otherwise be spent helping patients or completing more value-added tasks.

Equally important, each of these manual tasks is an opportunity for someone to miss doing something they’re supposed to do. Compliance levels for taking these manual measurements are acknowledged in the industry to be below desired levels. Even when taken, paper records are at risk of not being properly managed such that they are available in the case of a later inspection or review.  By automating what was a manual task, our solution also immediately creates a digital record that can be accessed online by our clients in reports that exactly meet the guidelines of inspectors and can be tailored to individual state Boards of Pharmacy.  Furthermore, we can exceed the guidelines for internal monitoring purposes, taking far more than the required two readings a day, which creates opportunities for loss prevention through immediate alerting to pharmacists before a product becomes at risk for loss due to an event like a fridge door being left open or a refrigeration unit losing power (or just failing). Given that a single pharmacy refrigeration unit can hold $50,000 worth of product, the risk reduction associated with real-time monitoring has the potential to eclipse the monetary benefits we focused on above if just a few loss events are avoided.

While manual processes have been routine in the past, we have successfully demonstrated to our clients how employing digital solutions reduces risk, creates efficiencies, and produces a significant positive impact to their bottom line.

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