Technology Keeps Shipped Medications Cool

Jul 20, 2016
The Express Scripts Pharmacy uses innovative technology to keep medications shipments cool even in a summer of record-setting temperatures.

Jennifer Article

As the weather heats up, patients need not worry about their delivery of their prescription medications. Express Scripts take extensive measures to ensure shipments of prescription drugs are not impacted.

Engineered For Safety

image shows employee packing a shipping container with ice packs 

In 2006, we created a program that uses complex algorithms combined with National Weather Service data to determine the best packaging for the safe delivery of medications.

At the Express Scripts pharmacies, all medications that require temperature controls – such as insulin, many specialty medications, hydrocortisone and various other creams and gels – are stored in open-air coolers similar to those in the dairy department of a grocery store.

When a prescription for one of these medications is pulled and sealed in a shipping bag, the automated process diverts the medication on a separate temperature path.

A bar code on the package is used to retrieve information such as where the medication is, the temperature in the building, time of day, where it’s going and the average daily temperature forecasted in both locations for the next three days. Then it instantly computes what size cooler to pack the medication in, how many ice packs to include in the cooler, and the shipment method needed to make sure the medication arrives safely.

Keeping Cool

image shows ice packs in shipping containers  

The coolers are made of white, molded foam, and the ice packs are a gel material sealed in plastic. With record high temperatures plaguing the Midwest and other parts of the country, some shipments require as many as nine ice packs (in a year, we use more than 20 million pounds of ice). Once a cooler is sealed, it maintains the right temperature throughout the package as long as the gel packs are still partially frozen.

Depending on the needs of the specific package, delivery time ranges from the next morning to two days. If the program cannot ensure the shipment will arrive in a refrigerated state, it will not allow the order to be shipped.

Every part of the process is planned to ensure the safety of the medication while maintaining efficiency. For example, the coolers are white because they reflect light and heat, and the small coolers' dimensions are precisely engineered to be within shipping companies’ size limits so that freight is charged by weight and not dimension. The software also recommends the precise amount of ice so the medication stays at the right temperature while controlling the weight of the shipment.

Our cooling innovation continues to make the use of prescription drugs safer and more affordable for millions of Americans – even in the record-breaking heat.

Author Bio

Charlie Eller
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