Medical refrigerators inevitably have an important role to play. If your medical refrigerator breaks and you lose access to important medications or lab samples, you’re looking at a bigger problem.
Any medical refrigerator you buy has to be equipped to do the job right. That means durability, consistency, and the right features to make sure you and your colleagues can trust the viability of the items you store at the moment you need them. To achieve these tasks, medical fridges often have a few extra things going for them that kitchen refrigerators lack, including:
- The ability to maintain a specific temperature with great consistency.
- A clear temperature display that makes it easy for medical professionals to check that it’s always at the right temperature.
- A temperature alarm to alert you right away if there’s a problem.
- Features to help ensure the refrigerator keeps its temperature, like a door lock so it doesn’t get opened frequently or a clear door so people can check what’s inside without needing to open it.
Not every medical refrigerator checks all of these boxes, but all of them are designed with consistency and performance top of mind in order to meet the needs of customers for whom the stakes are high.
Types of Medical Refrigerators
In your search for the right medical refrigerator, you’ve got four main types to consider:
1. Undercounter Medical Refrigerators
In many medical and research offices, space is a crucial consideration. Undercounter medical refrigerators are not only compact but also designed to fit into spaces that likely aren’t already in use, like under a desk or countertop. They look similar to countertop medical refrigerators and are typically similarly sized, but are designed with an important difference: to put a refrigerator into a semi-enclosed space like, under a counter, the vents need to be facing forward for the fridge to work properly. You’ll typically have to pay more upfront for an undercounter medical fridge due to installation costs, but the space they save can be a boon to many research labs and medical offices.
2. Countertop Medical Refrigerators
Countertop medical refrigerators are also usually on the small size and can therefore easily fit onto the top of a table or countertop. No installation is required for these, all you have to do is put them somewhere within a range of an outlet and plug them in. If you have the counter space to spare and don’t need too large of a capacity for the medical supplies and samples you’ll be storing, a countertop model should fit the bill.
3. Large Capacity Medical Refrigerator
For many uses, the compact medical refrigerators you can find in our first two categories just won’t suffice. If you have a lot of items you’ll need to store, or if you need a fridge that can fit larger items, then a large capacity medical refrigerator is in order. These can come in many sizes, with larger fridges typically costing more. Most large capacity medical fridges are upright, so you don’t have to sacrifice too much floor space to get the amount of storage space you need.
4. Flammable/Explosion Proof Medical Refrigerator
If anything you’ll be putting in your medical fridge has the potential to be flammable, you don’t want to take your chances. Any medical refrigerator marketed as explosion proof will be designed with all the extra safety measures that allow you to keep products that are flammable and explosion-prone inside safely, or keep the fridge in sensitive locations where it may be exposed to hazardous materials.
Medical Refrigerators for Specific Use
Many medical refrigerators are designed with specific functions in mind, so in addition to these four main categories, you’re likely to find a number of models specially designed for one of these uses:
- Laboratory Medical Refrigerators
- Blood Bank Medical Refrigerators
- Pharmacy Medical Refrigerators
- Chromatography Medical Refrigerators
- Vaccine Medical Refrigerators
Many of these refrigerators are suitable for additional uses to the one they’re designed for, so you don’t have to necessarily rule them out if you know you’ll need them to also function for another use. But if you know you need a medical refrigerator for one of these particular needs, going with a model designed with that specific use in mind can ensure you get a product that will keep the right temperature and come with all the features you need.
Factors to Consider When Buying a Medical Refrigerator
Before you get to the point of thinking about purchasing a medical refrigerator, you already know you have a need for it. What you need to consider before picking out your model is not just that primary need, but also any other uses or needs you may be likely to have down the line. To make the right choice now, take into consideration how all these factors will come into play over the years of use you’ll be putting your medical fridge to.
Medical refrigerators vary in size from small compact fridges you can easily fit on or under a countertop, too much larger capacity models of 50 cubic feet or more that can store a considerable quantity of medical supplies or samples. As you’d expect, the larger medical refrigerators will typically cost more than smaller ones, but if you need to buy multiple compact medical refrigerators to have the chilled storage space you need it’s likely you’ll end up spending more than if you just went with a large capacity fridge.
In addition to how much you’ll need to store, you have to consider how much space you have. Is there somewhere for you to put a large capacity medical refrigerator? If not, are there items you can get rid of or move to make room for it? If you know a small medical refrigerator will work for your needs, but counter space is limited and already tends to get cluttered, you should make a point of choosing an undercounter model that’s easier to fit in the room.
You may have to balance your needs against the current space you have available, but if at all possible, try to take into account possible increases in your future storage needs so you’ll be prepared when the day comes.
Medical refrigerators are an investment. You should expect them to cost more across the board than comparably sized refrigerators for home use due to the higher level of performance expected of them. You can expect medical refrigerators with special features and those designed for especially sensitive uses to cost more as well. An explosion-proof medical refrigerator will understandably cost more than a comparably sized model that doesn’t offer that functionality.
While in many of life’s purchasing decisions buying based on price makes sense, you don’t want to skimp on any of the important features or functionality your medical practice or research laboratory requires. It’s much better to make room in your budget now for the medical refrigerator that will reliably serve your needs than to try to make do with a more affordable option that fails you at a crucial moment.
A medical refrigerator primarily used to store vaccines will look different and have different features than one that will be exclusively used for storing blood samples. While some medical refrigerators can be put to several different types of medical, laboratory, or pharmaceutical uses, many are specifically designed with a particular use in mind and as such will be best suited for carrying that one out.
Don’t feel like you have to settle for a medical refrigerator that might work for your needs. Check and see if there are any models specifically designed with your primary use in mind.
A big part of what sets a medical refrigerator apart from a home refrigerator is the promise of temperature consistency. Many medical samples and supplies need to stay at a consistent temperature in order to stay viable. A change could mean the loss of blood donations, sorely needed medications, or ruined research that untold hours and dollars have gone into.
In addition to finding a medical refrigerator that promises consistency, many models offer additional features to help you maintain a consistent temperature. Special features like locks on the fridge door or clear doors can help ensure the fridge is opened and closed infrequently throughout the day. An external temperature display is handy for regular monitoring. And a temperature alarm can alert you and your team to when the temperature is rising due to a power failure or problem with the unit so you have time to save your samples.
Medical refrigerators are enough of an investment that you want yours to last. Going with a reliable brand can mean getting a fridge that lasts you longer without any interruptions in its use due to repairs or product failures. No electronic lasts forever, so with any model you buy, you’ll likely need to consider a replacement at some point, but ideally, you should go with a medical refrigerator today that will be the one you stick with for years to come.
Keeping things cold takes a lot of energy. The costs are typically worth it for the uses you’d put a medical refrigerator to – a high energy bill is nothing to the cost of ruined vaccines, for example. Nonetheless, you do have a budget to think about and if you can find a medical refrigerator that gets the job done while working efficiently, you can save money in the long term. Energy Star doesn’t currently rate medical refrigerators, but they are working on developing product specifications to do so in the near future.
In the meantime, you’ll have to go off of marketing promises or the larger reputation of the brand for energy efficiency to gain an idea of what to expect from a medical fridge in terms of energy use.
Noise is likely a secondary concern for most professionals considering a medical refrigerator. Nonetheless, if the unit will be in a space where you regularly interact with patients or where doctors need to be able to do focused work, you have to be aware of the noise level that a new appliance will bring to the room. If you know that finding a quieter medical refrigerator is a priority, look for promises of silence in the product specs or ask a sales rep for more details on how loud the refrigerator is.
Not all professionals considering medical refrigerators need to keep compliance top of mind, but for certain uses, it must be a top priority. If you think there’s a chance your medical refrigerator may need to meet one of these standards, double-check to be sure – it’s much better to be safe than risk not being compliant – and then make sure the medical fridge you go with is up to the required standards.
Features to Look For
- Temperature Alarm: If anything you’re storing in your fridge is especially sensitive to temperature change, an alarm can make sure you’re alerted right away if the temperature of the fridge starts to rise so you can save your samples
- Lock: Many of the items medical professionals and researchers are likely to keep in a medical fridge are valuable. You don’t want them to be accessible to just anybody. A lock provides both security and assurance that the fridge won’t be needlessly opened to let out air
- Automatic Defrost: Manually defrosting a fridge is a pain and leaves the refrigerator out of commission for a period of time. An automatic defrost feature saves you the trouble
- Clear Door: A fridge with a see-through door doesn’t have to be opened as often. You can check what’s inside without letting any of the colds out
- Fridge/Freezer Combo: If your practice or lab has need of a freezer as well, buying a fridge and freezer in one unit could save you money and space
- Temperature Display: You can always buy a thermometer to check the temperature of your fridge, but an external display saves you the trouble and allows you to confirm the temperature without opening the fridge door to let coldness out.