Whether you're purchasing your first mobile computer carts for a small healthcare center, or you're looking at your second or third round of mobile cart purchases for a large hospital, determining whether to buy new or used equipment is one of your most important decisions.
On the one hand, used mobile computer carts often function just as well as new ones, and for a fraction of the cost. On the other hand, new equipment may come with manufacturer warranties and service agreements that are required for your maintenance strategy, or you may need to purchase peripherals for special functions that are only available through the manufacturer. Newer models may include new features that you want to incorporate, or you may prefer pre-owned carts that have already survived years of operation thanks to their superior construction.
Determining whether you should try to minimize costs or maximize functionality is a crucial part of any procurement process. While it's important to get the most value for your money, you also don't want to cut corners, especially when it comes to equipment that gets used on the front lines of patient care.
This guide will help you assess whether your healthcare facility would benefit most from new or used mobile computer carts. We'll walk you through a set of assessment questions that you can use to determine what solution offers the functionality and flexibility you need, and the best value for your dollar.
How Will You Use Your Mobile Computer Carts?
Since the EMR mandate took effect, mobile computer carts have been the most popular option for presenting patient information at the point of care, and although wall-mounted systems are gaining popularity, mobile carts are still the most widely used. Your needs at the point of care will determine what kind of mobile computer cart best suits your facility – what features, peripherals, and power options will be required to make the most of your investment?
The work surfaces of your mobile computer carts need space for the main components – a hard drive, power source, keyboard, and mouse – as well as auxiliary medical equipment like blood pressure machines or an intravenous medication dispenser. Assessing who will use the mobile computer cart and what clinical role the equipment will play is the first step to determining how the product should be optimally configured.
Features such as weight reduction, ergonomics, powered height adjustment and advanced battery systems, are primarily leveraged in newer mobile computer carts. However, certified pre-owned carts can frequently be customized to your needs at just 40-60% of the cost of the latest model. With warranties and on-site service also available, used carts remain an attractive option when they can be customized to meet end-user requirements.
Will Your Carts Need an External Power System?
Determining whether you need to rely on an external power system for your mobile computers carts comes down to workflow analysis, but the costs and benefits are immediately clear. A basic mobile computer cart that operates with no extra power source can experience between 30% and 50% downtime per shift.
Resultantly, most healthcare facilities adopt an external power source solution that can keep mobile computer carts in constant operation but may increase the total cost of the unit by 25-40%. This could be an onboard industrial power supply or a hot swapping rechargeable battery that weighs as little as 4 lbs.
If your healthcare facility is like most others, you’ll want to invest in hot swapping technology to guarantee 100% uptime for your new carts. In the healthcare environment, it’s important to choose a reliable battery system that’s effective when you need it most. Ensure that your power supply delivers sufficient wattage to power your computer and any other peripherals that your facility requires without adding too much weight or bulk to the cart.
Both new and used carts can be fitted with hot swapping batteries. Choose one that uses Lithium Ion Phosphate technology, recharges efficiently, and comes equipped with software that readily indicates its charge status.
Will Your Carts be Suitably Ergonomic for Your Staff?
Ergonomics is a generally undervalued aspect of mobile computer carts – a well-designed cart that’s lightweight is much easier to push than a bulky unit that’s fitted with a hefty battery pack. Healthcare providers already experience musculoskeletal disorders at roughly 7 times the rate of the population, owing to the already physically demanding nature of patient care.
To best take care of your frontline workers and ensure they’ll have an easy time with either a used or new mobile computer cart, ensure that you consider the following features during your purchasing process:
- Height adjustment – the range in height between healthcare workers is significant. Your shortest and tallest care providers should benefit from one-step automatic height adjustment that’s quick and easy to initiate.
- A fifth wheel – A five-wheel mobile cart is configured for smooth and easy motion in any direction, making it much easier to push for healthcare providers of any size.
- A work surface with few gaps – The hands should be able to rest comfortably on a large work surface that offers structural integrity and support.
- A negative-tilt keyboard – The ability to modify the keyboard angle significantly decreases long-term injury risks, including carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis, by allowing the nurse or physician to maintain a neutral wrist position when typing for long periods.
Your staff should be able to push the carts easily with one hand – a nurse who weighs 115 lbs herself will not be happy pushing around a mobile computer cart that weighs 55 lbs.
What Ease-of-use Features Are Required for Your Facility?
If you're anticipating a lot of required up-time for your mobile computer carts, you may want to spend time thinking about how functional the carts will be when you incorporate them into your facility. Will they easily fit through your doorways, hallways, elevator doors, and around other normal obstacles? Will they smoothly glide across thresholds and on any type of flooring present in your hospital without getting stuck and potentially toppling over?
The overall weight of the cart, its center of mass, wheel configurations, and base construction and design all affect how easily a nurse can navigate the typical obstacles of the healthcare environment.
These questions may seem trivial when compared with the importance of managing your hospital's budget, but it's important to think about the welfare of the folks that use these carts every day. If you save money on equipment that's clunky and cumbersome to move around, have you actually made anything better at your facility? Easy-to-use equipment means that your staff can stay focused on being productive at work.
How Will You Manage Cart Repairs?
Older mobile computer carts are typically made better and can be easier to repair than new models whose lightweight design and aesthetics have made them slightly less durable (and lower in weight).
While refurbished equipment is not covered by manufactuer's warranties, vendors like Add-On Data that provide certified pre-owned mobile computer carts can offer their own warranties, as well as on-site service plans.
Your protocol for repairs will depend on the cart that you purchase, so make sure you get an idea of what that looks like before you make a decision on buying used or new mobile carts. If your healthcare facility already contracts third-party repairs for mobile carts, you may be in a good position to save money by purchasing used carts.
Mobile computer carts are the most popular way of accessing electronic medical records at the bedside, but it's important to make the right purchasing decisions to get the best value for your money. Before you buy, take the time to map out your intended usage for the carts, how they will be powered and stored, and how you will service and maintain the equipment. Once you clarify the details, you'll be able to decide whether you need the latest model or a functioning, older model for less money.