Wherever you live, if you’re a patient who receives infused medicines, it’s a good idea to pay attention to the weather. Infusion therapies like immunoglobulin need to be kept at just the right temperature.
That’s because infusion therapies are “biologics” - medicines that are generally delivered intravenously or subcutaneously and contain proteins that make the medicine effective, said Deirdre Smith, CSL Behring’s Associate Director for Medical Information in North America. If the medicines get too hot or too cold for too long, they might not work as well as they should.
But how can you keep medicines cool on a piping hot summer day? And how do you keep your medicine from freezing when temperatures dip? It takes some planning. The Immune Deficiency Foundation offers these tips for patients that cover what to do in extreme temperatures.
“Patients become an important link in the chain for keeping medicines properly stored,” Smith said.
Here are two steps patients can take:
- Look at the prescribing information to find out the safe storage temperatures for a medicine.
- Call the pharmacy, healthcare provider or the company to ask questions.
From Manufacturer to Patient
Manufacturers produce infusion therapies by following a careful, exacting process that doesn’t stop when medicines leave the plant. Shippers, such as FedEx, must also keep the products cool so they arrive in good condition at their destinations – pharmacies, hospitals and patient’s doorsteps.
CSL Behring handles thousands of product-related inquiries every year and a portion of those are about “excursions” – an industry term for when a product does not follow its intended path, Smith said. For instance, what if your medicine gets dropped off at your neighbor’s house and sits out on a hot day?
If you’re unsure a product is still effective, set the product aside and call the pharmacy, Smith advised. Do not throw it away, she said, because it will be useful in figuring out what happened. Between the pharmacy and the manufacturer, they should be able to reconstruct the product’s path and determine if you should use the product or return it for a replacement. Everyone in the chain will want to understand what happened, whether the medicine is still effective and how to prevent problems in the future, Smith said.
Travel Smart with Your Meds
When traveling, patients can plan ahead to prevent exposing their medicine to extreme temperatures. Think about how to keep medicine cool while traveling in car that is likely to get hot when it’s parked and the air conditioning is not running. Lynne Doebber, who has primary immunodeficiency (PI) disease, has a plan for just about every on-the-road situation. She loves to travel and offers advice to fellow patients who have PI.
“While traveling in the summer by air or by car, I often use any of my collection of insulated bags filled with small ice packs, like the ones you would use for kids’ lunches,” she said.
Air travel can expose medicine to extreme cold temperatures, which is why patients are encouraged to keep their medicine with them rather than stow it with checked baggage. Smith recommends additional travel advice from the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Pharmacy Times.
An Employee’s Patient Story
Smith, with CSL Behring since 2015, has her own patient story. She lives with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), so she knows what it’s like to manage medication that has special storage requirements. She takes a regular injection and has a special spot for it - in a secondary refrigerator where it’s less likely to be disturbed by kids looking for a snack.
Smith also keeps key information handy at all times. She used her mobile phone to take a photo of her insurance card and has programmed in the number to her specialty pharmacy.
“This week I ordered my prescription from the pool because I forgot to call in the morning before I left the house,” she said.
Smith said she has learned a lot from fellow RA patients and hopes people who take infusion therapies will reach out to their patient communities, too.
“In all aspects of my disease, that’s where I’ve found my tips and tricks and you know you’re not alone.”