When mobile medical carts first hit the medical scene, they were often more of a burden than a tool of efficiency. Bulky carts with wheels that got stuck, coupled with batteries that didn’t last very long, made mobile computers challenging to use in a meaningful way in a hospital setting.
Luckily, there have been many improvements made to computers on wheels, or COWs, that have helped to optimize patient care, reduce wait times and data entry errors, and made mobile workstations efficient and convenient for medical staff. These include lightweight, ergonomic designs, an improved power system, and customization.
Designing the next generation of COW carts
To eliminate the bulkiness and difficulties in moving COWs from location to location, most medical computer carts are made of lightweight aluminum which accounts for a 75% reduction in weight. They are also often adjustable for the height of the user, adding optimum comfort for multiple healthcare providers.
The wheels are durable and designed to spin so they can squeeze around tight corners and into small spaces. Much like the spinning wheels of new luggage people use at airports, these wheels allow for more movement and maneuverability in a crowded hospital setting.
The faster and more efficiently a provider can reach their patient, access their records, and keep plenty of supplies on-hand, the more satisfied the patient will be with their quality of care.
When mobile computer carts first hit the market, they didn’t stay powered for very long. This was due to a combination of early portable battery technology and less efficient computer systems. More advanced computer systems have twice the amount of computing power while drawing half of the battery power needed to keep it running. This, combined with hot-swap lithium-ion batteries, allow computer carts to run anywhere from 6-10 hours without charging.
When it comes to charging, this is another complaint that many nurses and doctors voiced. They would often have to find a place to plug in their carts, which took time away from providing their direct patient care. If an outlet wasn’t available in the patient’s room, they would have to plug in their cart somewhere in the hall, which also impedes the quality of their time spent with patients.
The hot-swap battery system provides a fully charged back-up battery which sits waiting on the cart. Most mobile medical carts also have a battery life indicator. When it runs low, it will alert the user, and the user can swap out the old battery for the new one in under 30 seconds. This means the computer cart will last an entire shift, and then some for most medical environments.
Next generation COWs don’t have to be just a computer, monitor, and mouse anymore. Instead, many styles and designs provide supply and cassette drawers, medication drawers, supply drawers, printers and scanners, and even sharps disposal boxes. COW carts can be customized to work for a particular environment to maximize workflow.
The less time medical providers have to spend tracking down supplies, and additional equipment means they can spend more one-on-one time with their patients.
Medical providers also don’t have to worry about security, since most medical carts on wheels with drawers come with manual or digital locks to keep supplies and medications secure. Again, these can be customized according to the needs of the medical personnel, depending on what will work best for the staff.
Mobile medical carts have come a long way since they were first introduced into hospital settings in the late 1990s. There are plenty of improvements that have been made, and that will continue to be made to these workstations in the years to come.
As these carts continue to be improved in their efficiency, patient care quality will continue to improve as well. The less time medical providers have to spend inputting data and lugging around inconvenient equipment, the more time they can spend listening to the concerns of their patients and providing meaningful medical guidance.