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The Ergonomics of Pushing and Pulling Medical Carts

By Team Altus
Published Jul 16, 2020 | Updated Feb 21, 2022 | 6 min read

Ergonomics is an integral part of any work environment, especially those in healthcare. With roots in the Greek language, ergon meaning working and nomos meaning principle of law, ergonomics has established itself as a necessary component in creating a healthy and safe work environment.

The science of ergonomics focuses on decreasing fatigue, stress, and discomfort by providing solutions that can adapt to a user’s unique ergonomic requirements. Medical workstations on wheels (WOWs) serve as the solution to creating a safe workplace.

The medical computer carts often used by nurses carry medication, supplies, and technology to document electronic medical records (EMRs). While they were created to offer a solution to many ergonomic-related obstacles, if they are not used correctly these hospital computer carts can quickly become an overloaded and heavy piece of technology that nurses have to worry about how to move from room to room.

To keep mobile computer carts from bogging down and possibly burdening hospital staff, we created this guide on how to choose an ergonomic push/pull medical cart and the factors to consider before purchasing one.

A Guide to Choosing a Mobile Medical Cart

As a decision-maker, your goal is to make a decision that will improve the workflow of hospital staff while also curating a healthy work environment. Before implementing a decision, you also have to factor in any obstacles that could impede the use of any chosen equipment. There are four things to consider when making a medical cart purchasing decision:

  1. The economic and ergonomic value of medical computer carts

  2. Environmental factors that affect mobility

  3. Mobile computer cart mass and design

  4. Flexibility and adaptability of the computer cart on wheels (COW)

#1 The economic and ergonomic value of medical computer carts

Nursing is a demanding profession and can take a toll on the body. A large portion of their job is utilizing their workstations, in order to perform their tasks. In any shift, a healthcare worker can administer medication, document EMRs, or check patient records while bringing their workstation to each room with them. This includes bending, twisting, pushing, pulling, and more just to complete their tasks, and potentially creating potential injuries.

The Economics of Ergonomics

Safety may not be a ‘revenue-generating department’ but it is a cost-cutting department. One of the easiest and most important areas to increase safety is by implementing ergonomic programs and workstations. Having computer workstations that are built to be ergonomic directly decreased the chances of nurses experiencing potential injuries from bending and twisting in awkward positions.

Ergonomics helps with ROI in hospitals so much so that facilities that implement ergonomic programs see a 21% decrease in time lost due to occupational injuries. The investment from paying attention to ergonomics leads to an increase in the health and safety of workplace conditions and leads to less money being spent overtime to heal occupation-related injuries.

Workflow Efficiency & Safety

Ergonomic solutions promote workflow efficiency. Each ergonomically built mobile workstation is designed to reduce bad posture and awkward movements needed to complete a task. By removing the need to reach or bend down to grab something, clinicians can reduce the time and effort needed to complete that specific task, and allow them to move on to the next one quicker than before.

Medical PC carts are made to adapt to a user’s ergonomic needs. They take away the extra effort so each healthcare worker is able to move more efficiently and without the worry of an accidental injury.

Nurse musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)

Nurse musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are conditions that can affect your muscles, tendons, bones, ligaments, blood vessels, joints, or any structure that support your limbs, neck, and back. Some of these diseases include carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, and tension neck syndrome. MSDs can happen to anyone in healthcare simply due to job requirements.

In order to reduce the risks and potential pain nurses could experience, hospitals need to consult their staff and find the most common pain point and movements. Knowing predominate movements can make finding a mobile laptop cart easier and the decision process generally go smoother.

#2 Environmental factors that affect mobility

When choosing an ergonomic medical cart, you not only have to consider the overall cart design, but also anything in the environment or hospital that could affect the cart from performing at its best. This includes obstacles on the ground and flooring throughout the hospital.

Ground obstacles

Any type of ground obstacle, or physical barrier, is when the environment heeds the cart from being able to operate properly. This could mean the caster deforms, debris or items on the floor, or even uneven surfaces that a nurse needs to roll over.

When a medical computer cart faces any sort of obstacle its wheels must roll over it, or the cart itself needs to be compact enough to fit around it. When faced with a ground obstacle a nurse must make a split-second decision and the computer cart on wheels must be able to handle either choice.

Hospital Flooring

One aspect in hospitals that is not always uniform that can make a large impact on hospital staff and their usage of battery powered carts is the type of flooring. Floors in any one hospital can be carpet, hardwood, tile, and include door frames or metal separations, and even raised ledges going into elevators.

With nurses walking an average of 4-5 miles per shift, any workstation brought in needs to be able to handle the change in flooring. A smooth transition with little to no vibrations keep the nurse from experiencing extra movement or pain when quickly moving from one room to another. The computer cart also needs to be able to go up a slope or raised edge without tipping, so a nurse can be confident on her trek across the hospital.

#3 Mobile computer cart mass and design

Since the clinicians pushing the battery powered carts are moving them up to 12 hours a day, having a cart that doesn’t take a lot of effort to move is at the top of their list and a priority when deciding on which mobile to cart purchase.

The cart can’t be too heavy for clinicians to push or pull through rooms. The biggest factor to look at when it comes to a medical cart’s design is the overall design, including the weight of the cart, and its casters.

Weight and layout

The hospital mobile workstations should be designed with hospital mobility in mind. Meaning there needs to be a significant focus on the weight, handle, and overall design. As stated above a nurse needs to be able to push the cart through their hospitals without becoming exhausted, but in order to move the carts comfortably, the handle should be in an easy-to-reach location no matter the height of the user. The overall design is something to take into consideration before purchasing a cart as well. Examples include if a cart can handle dual monitors for optimal EMR charting, extra storage options, or provides ample workspace.

Casters

Medical cart casters meeting the floor cause friction that resists movement between them. To make sure there is no added effort to move the cart, checking to make sure the cart offers a variety of casters is a must. When moving on the floor, casters experience friction at the axel wheel, swivel, and ground wheel. Most modern casters utilize technology and materials that reduce friction, making this obstacle easier to overcome.

#4 Flexibility and adaptability of the computer cart on wheels (COW)

Perhaps the most important factor when deciding which ergonomically built workstation to purchase is the flexibility and adaptability of the cart itself. This is why it’s important to find a medical cart manufacturer that designs carts to fit a wide range of users. The three main design perspectives to determine design limits are:

  • Biomechanics -Strength, force, and posture guidelines

  • Physiology - Physical work capacity and fatigue

  • Psychophysics - Human perceptions

Each cart should be designed with these perspectives so nurses and healthcare workers can get the most out of their ergonomic workstations.

Another major aspect of the flexibility of workstations is how well they can adapt to new users. Offering a range of heights so no clinicians has to stoop or reach just to use the screen can make or break the user experience.

Mobile computer carts designed for healthcare

Altus makes mobile computer carts specifically for healthcare. Each cart is designed with ergonomics in mind and aims to reduce the above pain points for nursing staff. Contact us today to see if you qualify for a free evaluation sample to test how it works for your hospital staff.

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