Will Carts Delay Adoption of Hospital Mobile Devices? Could Be…

I just caught an interesting piece in on the use of plain old, unsexy carts in hospitals — one whose conclusions which may surprise you a bit.  The piece argues that since hospitals are comfortable using carts to haul around full-sized equipment, they may be slower than expected to adopt hot portable devices in care delivery.

The article notes that while mobile devices remain on hospital IT execs’ radar, carts laden with standard technologies like barcode scanners and laptops continue to be popular.

IT administrators interviewed by Health Data Management magazine said that hauling IT equipment with carts may be a better option than mobile deployment.  And research suggests that they’re not alone. According to a HIMSS study quoted in the article, carts are being used by 45 percent of hospitals in 2011, up from 26 percent in a related 2008 study. That’s a pretty dramatic leap.

It certainly makes sense. The fact is, carts make it possible to haul around a full-size keyboard (along with barcode scanners and medication), which allows nurses to work comfortably with EMRs at the bedside.

On the other hand, the small screens and awkward typing mechanisms used by mobile gear can actually slow down the care process.  Not only that, the small text used by mobile devices can be hard for an aging nursing workforce to read, according to Joan Harvey, RN, clinical nurse specialist at Ocean Medical Center, who was interviewed by HDM.

That being said, hospital IT leaders aren’t ignoring the mobile device explosion. At least one hospital interviewed by the reporter, Good Samaritan of Vincennes, Ind., is testing mobile devices for future use. But execs there are frustrated by problems with compatibility between the different operating systems used by the devices, and differences between devices using the same operating environment. When you consider how much easier it may be to just have nurses drag along a standard PC and keyboard, why would they consider buying an Android tablet or iPhone?

Unless this author’s got his facts completely wrong, he’s made a really important point — that mobile device makers had better get their act together if they want to really step into the healthcare market. No matter how fascinating their potential use cases may be, the reality is that mobile vendors won’t make major headway in hospitals unless they get smart about barriers like the ones mention here.  The cool factor just won’t cut it.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.


  • Carts are a hardware solution to a software problem. WOWs (formerly COWs) are used because clumsy EMR software requires paper for the recording of real-time events. If providers could chart in real-time at the point of care, the carts would go away.

    The future is obviously mobile (if only because an iPad costs 1/18 a PC WOW), but we have to fix the software and workflow issues first.

  • Small devices are never going to be the total solution. The reason is that software from major EMR applications providers in hospitals is at least 10 years old. Applications in between which size the software to new smaller screens are not robust nor will they work consistently in the current HL7 environment. Computer stations in, or near, patient rooms are an alternative or as touch screen technology goes perhaps a touch screen in a prime location. Mobile carts are a good alternative if med pass or BCA is needed. Cutting errors is key and having a cart at the point of care is crucial. I am waiting for CareFusion to team up with a company like Scott-Clark Medical to build a seamless delivery system with their unit dose cabinets. This would go a long way to integrate and validate carts for the future. However, I am a strong believer that their is a flanking technology out there that will revolutionize the point of care device industry. I just don’t know what it is.

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