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What Do Nurses Want in a COW and a WOW?

Blog Post
6 minutes

Nurses are trailblazers in the workforce, carving new paths, and delivering optimal care to every patient they serve. With so many tasks on their plate, concern over the function of their workstation shouldn’t be one of them.

Commonly referred to as COW (computer on wheels) and WOW (workstation on wheels), these mobile carts are essential for patient care and engagement. When designed with proper ergonomics in mind, they can also boost productivity and efficiency, prioritize safety, and make for a better user experience. Knowing what to look for in a computer workstation can be overwhelming when seeing all the options available. Continue reading to learn more about the top things nurses want in their hospital workstations.

Each station must be simple to clean.

Sanitation is high on a nurse’s priority list, especially during COVID-19. Hospitals and medical facilities adopted additional cleanliness and sanitation measures to fight the spread of the virus and keep everyone safe.

To keep up with the new sanitation measures hospitals implemented, nurses need to quickly clean any workstation and not have extra effort to get it cleaned. This means each mobile computer cart, whether powered or non-powered, should be constructed with materials that are manageable to clean, sanitize, and disinfect.

In addition to the ease of cleaning laptop carts, they also need to withstand the cleaning agents hospitals use. Nurses do not want to worry if their cart’s finish will tarnish, or if it will erode the more it’s cleaned. Having a durable workstation coupled with a list of approved cleaning products checks both boxes for nurses.

Proper cleanliness isn’t just a luxury; it’s a requirement to remain compliant with medical-grade equipment as well as to prioritize the safety of medical professionals and patients alike.

Equipment must maximize space efficiency.

To effectively do their jobs, nurses require an assortment of equipment and items that can vary depending on current patients. When it comes to storing all of this, space is limited. Hospitals aren’t swimming in storage space, and nurses need their equipment in easily accessible places so they can stay near their patients. To facilitate their workflow, nurses want their equipment to have easily accessible storage while still being compact when traveling from room to room.

The storage featured on nursing equipment can range from adding baskets or drawers for a computer workstation or having a designated space built into the cart frame. As long as the storage solution centralizes items, and does not add excess bulk or make the hospital carts too big to move through hospital rooms, it is a solution nurses need.

Carts should express a full functionality range.

Nurses aren’t simply using carts for recordkeeping and note-taking, they need a mobile workstation that is flexible and able to meet the needs of their specific department. Each area within a hospital has different needs ranging from technology capability, medicine storage, and patient records.

For solutions to the extra options and an added layer of functionality, nurses are looking toward the new wave of workstations. These hospital computer carts are built to match the clinician using them, along with adding functionality. Some carts, like registration carts, are able to sport scanners, printers, and even signature pads.

Another way hospitals can add functionality to their workstations is by offering dual monitors. Dual monitors increase productivity and are extra useful in the wake of the telehealth boom. Two monitors allow nurses to conduct a virtual visit on one screen and pull up the patient data on the other for enhanced accessibility.

Long battery life is a necessity.

Nurses look for a battery powered cart that can handle operating for their entire 12 hour shift

With so much vital information attached to the workstation, the last thing that a nurse should worry about during a busy shift is the computer cart’s battery life. It’s essential to have a cart with a reliable, high-powered battery source, as it supports many functions in the patient-care process.

Most nurses look for a battery-powered cart that can handle operating for their entire 12-hour shift. They want assurance there is nothing to worry about, and that they don’t have to stop working in the middle of their shift just to charge their computer cart.

Additionally, nurses and providers aim to have accurate knowledge of their station’s battery life and know when it is running low or needs to be charged. State-of-charge indicators are becoming more popular as they can detect when the battery is running low and can alert providers to the estimated time the battery will last. Many include software that shows the overall working condition of the battery, which could indicate when it is time to replace it.

Nurses want built-in scanner capability.

Barcode technology has become commonplace in the medical field over the last decade. It has been used to increase patient safety and identification, as well as advance operational efficiencies.

Scanning barcodes is a regular part of nurses’ day-to-day tasks. Nurses need workstations that feature scanning capability, enabling nurses to use their barcode scanners easily when treating patients. Built-in scanner holders also reduce the need for additional technology and weight of the overall workstation—decreasing fatigue, and increasing performance.

Workstations should be flexible and adaptable.

In the healthcare field, few clinicians are standing still in one position for their shift. With the average nurse walking 4-5 miles a shift, they are routinely moving, bending, checking on patients, and picking up equipment. To support their roles, workstations need to be as mobile and adaptable as they are.

Having a workstation built to prioritize ergonomics, and keep the weight of the mobile cart limited, becomes a necessity for nurses. Clinicians should not have to use their entire body weight to adjust workstation height or move from room to room. Part of having an ergonomic design is allowing the user to have the flexibility to both adjust up and down and rotate side-to-side with ease.

When looking at the specifics on how to find nurses their perfect workstations, there are several functions that can add to the computer cart’s versatility. These include:

  • Convenient hand levers to effortless sit-to-stand height adjustment, using proprietary lift technology
  • Electric lifts to move the work surface up-and-down with a button
  • Rotating keyboards, trays, and monitors to bring the work to you
  • Swivel wall mounts so inputting data is achievable anywhere
  • Sit-to-stand capabilities
  • Vertical vs horizontal monitor support
  • More reliable wheel technology

Repairs need to be simple and straightforward.

No one wants to wade through complex technical manuals to fix small issues that pop up. Healthcare workers especially don’t have the time to search for an answer, meaning workstations must be easily and quickly repaired when necessary.

Given the central role hospital med carts play in a nurse’s job, a lengthy repair process brings more inefficiencies and adds unnecessary stress to shifts. The best way to keep your workstation running well for years is to practice preventative maintenance and undergo proper cleaning measures.

If you want to take the pressure off of hospital staff almost entirely when it comes to repairs, asset tracking solutions offer a way for IT to track maintenance for all computer carts and other mobile hospital equipment. For example, RTLS technology combines all the information gathered on each computer cart, so IT can easily schedule maintenance, and the nurse can know exactly when their computer cart will be unavailable ahead of time.

Size shouldn’t be compromised.

One aspect that gets overlooked in favor of making the computer cart as compact as possible is the size of the workstation. A cart may be able to easily fit into a small corner, but a nurse is too cramped to be able to perform their needed tasks.

Nurses would rather have a less compact workstation than have no workspace. At any point during a shift, a nurse could have a computer, papers, and a blood pressure reader on the top of their cart to use for one individual patient. Having to stack each item hinders nurses from being able to move smoothly and causes extra stress.

Not to compromise the size of the workspace, mobile carts should have a separate compartment below the top of the cart where the mouse and keyboard are housed. This keeps the workspace clear, and more space for nurses to pull out the equipment they need. There’s enough a nurse has to worry about in a day, having ample space shouldn’t be one of them.

Workstations have to be durable.

Let’s face it: medical spaces can get hectic and equipment must be able to tolerate a certain threshold of wear and tear. Workstations shouldn’t be delicate or made of cheap materials; they have to be able to handle normal day-to-day needs.

Sometimes carts bump into walls or get knocked into other pieces of equipment. Clinicians using the cart may forget to push a drawer in and hit a door frame. A mobile cart should not regularly break in these accidental moments. It could be an emergency situation for a nurse, so they need a durable workstation to keep up. They need to be confident their workstation will last them no matter what is thrown their way.

Accurate device tracking is beneficial.

Rtls tracking systems can help nurses locate where their workstations are

Workstations can be expensive, and it’s important for many nurses that their equipment remains within their unit. An RTLS tracking system can help nurses locate where their workstation is at all times, what the battery charge is, and if it’s currently available.

Being able to track the location is especially helpful at the beginning and end of shifts when the product changes hands. Carts could be placed in the wrong room, forgotten to get plugged in, or accidentally been walked off with a different nurse. Tracking equipment keeps this from being an issue and minimizes “finding time” for locating an available laptop cart.


Searching for the perfect WOW for nurses is an investment. Making sure it fits into everything a nurse requires in the workstations they use daily is the best way to protect your investment. Altus designs computer carts to combine everything nurses appreciate. Contact us today to find out how to pick the best workstation for your hospital or medical office.