5 Key Benefits of Computer on Wheels (COW) in Healthcare & Hospitals

5 Key Benefits of Computer on Wheels (COW) in Healthcare & Hospitals

The costs of quality healthcare are increasing for patients and insurance companies along with healthcare facilities, due in large part to recent legislative changes. In an unstable regulatory environment where change is a constant, hospital IT managers at the most successful healthcare facilities are investing in infrastructure and equipment that helps drive down the cost of care delivery while improving patient outcomes.

Since the electronic health records (EHR) mandate came into effect, hospital IT departments have adopted a variety of solutions to satisfy the meaningful use criteria set out by the FDA. Although wall-mounted computers and tablets have been deployed by some facilities, computers on wheels are likely to be the most flexible, cost-effective and user-friendly approach of optimizing patient outcomes.

This article discusses the 5 key benefits of computers on wheels (COWs) in the healthcare environment. We'll explain how healthcare facilities across the country are getting the most out of this technology and why it's outperforming the alternatives in helping hospitals deliver outstanding care while saving time and money and facilitating improved patient safety and engagement.

Computers on Wheels Minimize Technology Costs for Modern Healthcare Facilities

The EHR mandate created a number of new challenges in the United States healthcare environment. With the strategic objective of using electronic health records to enhance healthcare delivery, it has become necessary for healthcare facilities to create a point-of-care environment where patients, electronic medical records, and care providers can all interface together. Ensuring that an EHR-equipped computing device is present at virtually all doctor-patient interactions has required significant investments in computing technology throughout the healthcare industry.

While wall-mounted computers have helped facilities save space and expand their infrastructure, they offer different workflow benefits for nurses than COWs. COWs allow nurses to transport a computer with them as they conduct patient interactions during a shift, enabling them to access EHR for each patient. With the added benefit that the care provider can use the same computer throughout their shift, it's clear that COWs are a cost-effective way of ensuring that EHRs are always accessible at the point of care.

Computers on Wheels Streamline Workflows for Care Providers

Before computers on wheels became commonplace in healthcare facilities throughout the country, it was normal for nurses to conduct patient interactions in person before returning to a stationary computer to record the results of the interaction. The ability to record patient interactions at the point-of-care streamlines this process, allowing care providers to travel between patients with the mobile workstation instead of constantly walking back to a stationary computer between patient visits.

COWs can also reduce the number of action steps in other patient care processes. For example, COWs can be used to access imaging results from the hospital's internal network and present them to patients for consultative viewing. COWs can also be customized to include secure storage space, enabling nurses to bring supplies and medications with them to the patient's bedside and minimizing trips to the supply and medication rooms on each shift.

Computers on Wheels Reduce Errors and Improve Patient Safety

Reducing record-keeping errors and improving patient safety is an important benefit of computers on wheels. We mentioned above that nurses could input patient care data and record interactions at the point of care instead of after walking to a stationary computer terminal - this also means that they're less likely to forget an entry, leave out an important detail, or even be interrupted by an emergency that takes away their focus from the vital task of recording a patient interaction or the administration of a medication.

Computers on wheels can also be used to facilitate efficiency and patient safety in medication dispensing. In fact, some manufacturers have started producing carts that include integrated medical delivery systems. In addition, carts are configured with storage drawers that contain medication, along with a bar-code scanner. The scanner is used to scan the patient's wristband and the medication, verifying that the prescribed medicine is given to the correct patient and automatically generating an online record of the interaction. Some carts include complete medicine delivery systems that use bar-codes to track the movement of medications from a secure loading station to a locked drawer and finally to the patient's bedside. With these systems, the secure drawer is only unlocked by scanning the bar-code on the patient's wrist, drastically reducing dispensation errors.

Computers on Wheels Promote Patient Engagement

COWs can play a unique role in facilitating patient engagement throughout the healthcare delivery process. It's fairly obvious that an engaged patient is more likely to follow treatment protocols successfully, leading to improved healthcare outcomes. Patients who feel like they were engaged successfully in the healthcare process are also more likely to return to the facility where they had a good experience.

In the past, paper medical records were seldom shared with the patient, and often they would be updated somewhere out of the patient's view after an interaction took place. With COWs, nurses can update the patient's medical records in full view of the patient. Data sharing is supported by the presence of a screen that can be visible for both parties, or nurses can use the additional face time with patients to answer additional questions they may have (and they frequently do have them).

Computers on Wheels Outperform other Technologies in Healthcare IT

COWs deliver many of the same benefits as wall-mounted computers or tablet computers in the healthcare environment, so why is it that healthcare facilities everywhere prefer mobile computer carts? There are several reasons, but it ultimately comes down to cost, versatility, and practicality.

Wall-mounted computers are effective, but even if the screens can be moved around, they different ergonomic configurations than COWs.

Tablet computers are another option that hasn't quite managed to serve the needs of nurses in the healthcare environment. While they are lightweight and convenient, tablets can be inefficient in a medical environment.

On top of their poor battery life, many touchscreen tablets are incapable of facilitating rapid recordings of patient data in comparison to a traditional keyboard and require disinfecting between patient room visits. Moreover, some EMR systems strongly advise the use of 24" screens, which is much larger than a tablet, and many of the most common EMR software solutions are incompatible with tablet computing devices.

In contrast, COWs are both mobile and ergonomic. They are outfitted with powerful monitor/computer combination and can be configured with battery systems that provide enough power for an entire shift or longer. They are easy to transport between patients, and they provide more benefits to patient care workflows than the alternative of purchasing wall-mounted computers for every room in the hospital.


The EHR mandate has ensured that hospitals and healthcare facilities will need to accelerate their adoption of technologies that enable care providers to access patient medical records at the point of care. While other options exist, such as wall-mounted computers and tablets, COWs are still the best option for controlling costs, streamlining workflows and processes for care providers, enhancing patient safety and promoting patient engagement.