Frontline healthcare workers administer critical medical oxygen to their patients every day. But where does the oxygen come from? This question is more pertinent than ever with recent challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic and natural disasters affecting oxygen supply networks. Understanding the basics of the medical oxygen supply chain equips facility managers, respiratory therapists and other healthcare personnel with the knowledge they need to mitigate the risk of a future supply disruption. In this three-part series, we will follow bulk medical oxygen from the plant to the patient.
Part 1: Three Questions Every Healthcare Facility Should Ask About Bulk Medical Oxygen Production and Delivery
When evaluating your medical oxygen supplier’s reliability of supply, here are some questions to consider:
- How close is my primary medical oxygen source to my hospital and are there backup sources nearby?
- What is my medical oxygen supplier’s emergency preparedness plan for customers who experience equipment failure or oxygen surges?
- Does my supplier provide remote monitoring of my bulk system to optimize deliveries and can I easily get access to that data?
Medical Oxygen Production and Distribution
Prior to medical oxygen arriving at a healthcare facility, medical oxygen suppliers take crucial steps in producing, analyzing, and distributing oxygen in compliance with regulatory and industry standards. Medical oxygen suppliers produce oxygen by compressing and separating air into nitrogen, oxygen and argon through a cryogenic distillation and purification process. Messer utilizes its vast supply network of plants and sources to produce medical oxygen throughout the United States. With numerous plants and sources located in contiguous geographies, Messer supports its customers using backup supply sources. Because bulk medical oxygen is classified as a drug under Title 21 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, all medical gas manufacturers are required to register each of their air separation plants annually with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The Compressed Gas Association (CGA) and United States Pharmacopoeia (USP) specify the manufacturing and analysis of USP (medical) oxygen to ensure impurities are removed to a required level and the oxygen is suitable for patient care. It is the responsibility of the medical gas manufacturer to ensure its standard operating procedures (SOP) comply with all federal, state, and local regulations. Bulk medical oxygen storage tanks are sampled daily to verify conformance to specification. This specification requires that the oxygen purity exceed 99.5% purity and is free from foreign odor. Once the medical oxygen is loaded into the trailer, it is then analyzed again to confirm that it meets or exceeds the specification and a Certificate of Analysis (COA) is provided to the hospital with each delivery. The COA should be stored in hospital records for use and reference in future inspections, such as those performed by Joint Commission, a healthcare accreditation organization.
For more information about manufacturing medical oxygen, please refer to the following resources:
- Current Good Manufacturing Processes Practice for Medical Gases
- Standard For The Manufacturer Of Bulk Medical Gases - 4th Edition (CGA M-3 2015)
- FDA Compliance Program Guidance Manual on Compressed Medical Gases
Medical Oxygen Delivery Scheduling
As the COVID-19 pandemic swept across different regions of the U.S., Messer monitored and responded to unprecedented demands in medical oxygen usage. Messer quickly mobilized to increase production of oxygen, re-allocated drivers and bulk delivery trailers to areas where they were most needed, and increased delivery frequency to its healthcare customers to keep pace with the surging demand for oxygen. Messer also deployed portable oxygen trailers to provide supplementary supply to hospitals experiencing increased demand.
Messer provides an optimized supply chain for a healthcare facility’s medical oxygen needs. During the pandemic, hospitals learned that it can be advantageous to have separate bulk and cylinder suppliers to diversify their sources of supply. Because the hospital received oxygen from two different oxygen supply networks, both oxygen suppliers could flex their networks to supply bulk oxygen.
Messer’s Operating and Scheduling Center in Stewartsville, NJ controls and monitors plant operations remotely to consistently produce and deliver medical oxygen for our medical customers. The Operating and Scheduling Center operates 24/7, 365 days per year, and has a Disaster Recovery and Emergency Response Plan that features redundant telecommunications, data connectivity and an additional diesel generator for electrical back-up to ensure uninterrupted service and support for our customers.
Messer monitors medical oxygen usage patterns remotely via telemetry systems to help optimize delivery schedules. Our customers can view their telemetry data and delivery history on our proprietary NSC Online platform. Please reach out to Messer to learn how to access your oxygen usage information.
What Makes a Successful Medical Oxygen Supplier?
Premiere medical oxygen suppliers must have reliability of supply, strict SOPs to ensure patient safety, a strong emergency response plan and a remote monitoring system. A superior supplier presents the lowest risk option while not compromising the quality of the product or the customer’s unique needs.
Stay tuned for the next two entries in our three-part series to learn more about bulk medical storage equipment design and piping systems to help you identify potential bottlenecks in your current oxygen delivery system.
We deliver to you, so you can deliver to your patients.