Are all temperature indicators created equal?

When it comes to cost and performance, how do you choose?

by Jeffrey Gutkind

In today’s cost-conscious healthcare environment, our immediate reaction when making a buying decision is to minimize purchase cost.   The temperature indicators currently on the market have different costs.  And there are questions you may be asking:

  • is the “cheapest” purchase price going to save the blood bank money overall?
  • are all indicators equal in terms of performance?
  • how do you know which indicator to choose?

To answer these questions, let’s take a step back and question WHY we even use temperature indicators.

Temperature indicators for blood products were originally designed to provide assurance that blood product temperatures had not exceeded AABB temperature guidelines when the blood is out of the blood bank’s control. The temperature indicator provides proof that the blood product has been maintained at proper temperature while out of the blood bank control.

Numerous visitors to our AABB booth a few weeks ago stated that 40-50% of the blood issued from their blood banks is not used. To further illustrate the challenge, a journal article recently published in Transfusion (shared in our August 2014 VUEPOINT), described a study by a blood bank that stated how most of their blood waste was from either temperature or time (away from the blood bank) excursions, and that 70% of those losses came from blood products issued to the OR in coolers.  Temperature indicators are used by blood banks worldwide for exactly this reason – to provide assurance that the blood products at no time exceeded temperature thresholds, to help maintain blood product quality and to minimize blood waste.

So, other than cost, what matters when choosing an indicator?

Let’s circle back to our initial questions of the temperature indicator cost and the temperature indicator performance.  Since the job of a temperature indicator is to provide temperature information back to the blood bank, the indicator’s temperature ACCURACY (also referred to as “tolerance”) is critical.

As an example, of the three most popular 10o C temperature indicators on the market today, each publishes a different accuracy specification:

  • Safe-T-Vue 10  +/- 0.4 o C
  • Indicator A +/- 0.5 o C
  • Indicator B +/- 1.0 o C

How does indicator accuracy influence blood product waste?

In this illustration, you can see that a 10oC indicator with an accuracy of  +/- 1.0 may actually “trip” at 9 o C, thus falsely indicating that the temperature of the blood is out of specification.  And, as we all know, the cost of wasted blood itself far exceeds the purchase price of an indicator – and minimizing blood waste (not indicator cost) is the primary objective behind using a temperature indicator.

Using an average cost of $250.00 for a single wasted blood unit, it’s easy to calculate the potential savings of using a more accurate temperature indicator.   The cost difference in temperature indicators is minimal in comparison to the cost of one wasted unit of blood.

When comparing temperature indicators to make a buying decision, be sure to make ACCURACY comparison a key factor in your selection process.  Safe-T-Vue indicators are available in 6°C and 10°C temperature indications, both accurate within +/-0.4°C.  *

As always, we welcome your comments and feedback on the ideas presented in this VUEPOINT.


Jeffrey Gutkind

* Refer to AABB standards for blood banks and transfusion services, 21 CFR 640.2, 21 CFR 640.4, and 21 CFR 600.15.