Pandemic punctuates cart, workstation utility

March 22, 2021

Response to the COVID-19 pandemic not only has affected just about every aspect of clinical, financial and operational procedures within a healthcare organization but also has impacted how products and equipment can be adapted in different ways – carts and workstations being no exception.

Executives at more than a half-dozen leading cart and workstation manufacturers all recognize the demands placed on their products within the last year, pushing creativity to reasonable limits. They acknowledge that the competitive landscape has motivated companies to allow customers to mount not only “must-have” features but also “nice-to-have” features to an extent.

Roadside testing

“Where I see them making a huge impact is their continued importance in temporary and surge facilities. At Altus, we have a significant number of customers using our carts for roadside testing and vaccination efforts, and during the initial COVID surge in 2020, our carts played a vital role holding critical car equipment. Most carts are designed to be rolled on a smooth, flat temperature-controlled surface. Having a cart constructed of robust materials really helped our products perform when front-line workers needed them most.

“Our biggest takeaway from the pandemic was the importance of our U.S.-based supply chain. We saw a lot of companies in all areas of medical equipment unable to provide normal lead times. Altus continues to rely on our U.S.-based supply partners and feels added emphasis on product origins will be a continued trend in the years to come as hospitals evaluate potential suppliers.”

Joe Hillebrand, National Sales Director, Altus

Cross functionality

“Specialized medical carts for certain disciplines are a necessity – e.g., narcotics, crash, computer, vaccine, etc. – but what we learned in 2020 was that medical carts need to serve cross functionally as well. When times get lean we need to squeeze as much as we can out of our resources, and medical carts are no different. When it’s crunch time, carts need to do more than just store stuff. They need to be interchangeable, and most of the product innovations are the accessories that can be attached to the cart. Bottom line: Product reliability and product availability [aren’t] innovations but they were the two most important factors in the medical cart world during the pandemic.”    

Ian Loper, Vice President, DSI

Right-sizing reliability

“Having a place for dispensers is definitely a must. Cleanability will also have an even more prominent role in the selection process. I also think we’ll see a trend towards smaller carts, carts that will hold less supplies. It seems counter-intuitive, but we’ll begin seeing statistics coming out on how much supply is wasted. When a patient is found to be contagious, especially after being admitted, all of the exposed products need to be cleaned and sanitized. If it can’t be cleaned, like disposable supplies, they must be discarded. This has always been the case, but not to the degree experienced during the pandemic. Oftentimes, those supplies disposed are in excess of what was needed for that patient and could not be consumed. Right-sizing the inventory in the carts will reduce the potential for inventory scrap and result in a lot of unused space in larger carts. Once the inventory is right-sized, new areas and replacement carts will end up opting for a smaller cart. Our Starsys cart is often chosen for its smaller footprint and will likely be an ideal size for the right-sized inventory needs.”

Dave Salus, Market Manager, Healthcare Division, InterMetro Industries Corp.

Cleaning/sanitizing durability

“Products built using materials that are designed to withstand the rigors of frequent cleaning and disinfecting have a sizable advantage during the COVID-19 pandemic. Products that are also designed with fewer gaps and openings can assist with protection from infection. Smooth, sealed surfaces with rounded edges are easier to wipe clean and may be used more often.

“Infection Prevention will play a larger part in the design of products and in the selection of the materials used. Materials that feature natural antimicrobials, like copper-alloy or copper-infused materials, are becoming more viable options. Copper has long been used for railings in public transportation depots and for plumbing due to its intrinsic ability to reduce contaminants that can occur in air and water.”

Brian Hazelwood, Marketing Manager, Midmark

Adaptability sought

“Going forward, I think we’ll see more demand for carts and workstations that are easy to adapt to different needs. Solutions with open architecture and ample accessory options will be useful because of their flexibility. In that respect, Ergotron is ahead of the curve. For years we’ve designed carts with open architecture that are easy to configure and we offer a breadth of accessories. Over the past year, we’ve learned that caregivers may need to quickly shift their focus or utilize their resources in different workflows. Vaccine rollout is a great example. After the need to use medical carts in large-scale vaccination workflows declines, flexible carts can be redeployed elsewhere in the healthcare facility.”

Angela Poulson, Senior Product Manager for Healthcare, Ergotron

Secure PPE shelter

“If sterile supplies are protected from all sides by a physical barrier, then contamination is significantly reduced. Many carts and workstations have intricate features that can be difficult to completely sanitize because there are plenty of surfaces where germs can hide. The Hänel Rotomat automated sterile storage carousel is made of smooth powder-coated steel, with a worktable made of stainless steel. This gives it a great resistance to corrosion, scratching and chipping, and is very easy not only to clean and maintain, but also to sanitize. 

“The pandemic has exposed the need for more [personal protective equipment] and critical supplies to be kept on hand on a daily basis, in case such an event ever happens again. This entails keeping it in a centralized area where it can be easily accessed but not exposed to potentially damaging conditions. Keeping supplies out of the way not only prevents them from becoming damaged, but also alleviates any risks of causing injuries from inconvenient placement. Spare parts, such as respirator filters, also need to be stored and rotated as needed, in case of loss, damage or compromise. There are or soon will be minimum PPE on-hand requirements legislated by each state, so it is important to store and track product expiration dates so as not to discard the valuable – and often difficult to obtain – PPE.  Hänel’s Rotomat automated vertical carousel features integrated software, HänelSoft, which can address the concerns of product storage, tracking and management, and the data, can then be sent to higher-level systems, such as Lawson, EPIC or Cerner, for complete data visibility across departments.”

David Phillips, Marketing Manager, Hänel Storage Systems

Mounting flexibility

“COVID led to more questions and interest in various infection control features and options that we build into point-of-care carts. We have always designed the carts to be easy to clean with the highest grade non-porous ABS plastics and coatings that tolerate all the leading cleaning solutions and wipes used on medical equipment. We have also embedded anti-microbial silver ion in high-touch surfaces, which is a nice supplemental feature, but is not a substitute for cleaning carts following standard hygiene and infection control protocols used for point-of-care equipment.

“For supplies, some healthcare organizations install wall-mounted dispensers for wipes, sanitizer, and/or gloves, and many also mount sharps disposal containers on the wall. Wall mounting means not having to transport these items on carts, but there are several disadvantages. Having wipes and sanitizer closer to reach makes them more convenient to use more frequently. A box of gloves that matches the clinicians preferred size and type can be carried on their cart so they avoid the risk of coming into a room without the right gloves being available. For sharps containers, it is a best practice for infection control to minimize the distance between usage and disposal points. Needlestick risk increases substantially as a used needle has to be carried to a wall-mounted sharps container. So it is good to review each of these items and determine which should be cart-mounted versus wall-mounted.”

Steve Torbett, Senior Product Manager, Capsa Healthcare


“The emergence of COVID-19 has made the healthcare industry rethink optimal workflows to best meet the distancing policies that are required to manage the spread of the pandemic. We need to limit crowds/lines that tend to form at the [automated dispensing systems] (ADS) during high medication pass times. Additionally, how do we limit physical touches of the ADS drawers and bins? Omnicell has developed interoperable workflows with leading [electronic health records] to enable nurses to order their medications remotely from within the EHR. When ready for pickup, the nurse simply goes to the XT cabinet to retrieve the meds quickly and efficiently. Time spent at the cabinet is reduced by up to 57% based on studies, which eliminates crowding at the cabinet. To minimize nurse touches of the cabinet drawer system, we offer a single dose dispenser where the nurse simply opens a drawer once where single doses are dropped for the nurse. No opening of multiple drawers and bins for medication collection.”

Len Hom, Director, Product Marketing, Point of Care Solutions, Omnicell