Empowering your front-line workers
Five essential features to consider when purchasing mobile workstations.
By Jason Free, Features Editor, February 2014
Where does your front-line staff’s level of satisfaction rank in terms of its current mobile
workstations? Do they complain about how cumbersome or “tricky” they are to operate? Do they spend valuable time during staff meetings discussing workaround strategies to overcome power or accessibility issues? Do they express a need for expanded features such as telehealth and cart fleet management? The answers to these questions reveal not only your employees’ satisfaction but also, to a great degree, your facility’s level of patient care as well.
Below are five of the most important, yet often overlooked, considerations that ought to be made before purchasing a mobile workstation.
AFC PC Cart 500 with battery
No matter how impressive a given mobile workstation may appear in a brochure or exhibition hall, if it is not designed to reduce operator fatigue and discomfort, its real value is negligible at best. Ken Kapica, Marketing Director of AFC Industries, states, “Most healthcare facilities think that ‘one size fits all’, but this is not true. As varied as the patient population is, so is the workforce. Carts must be ergonomic and height-adjustable to comfortably fit as many end-user employees as possible. This will help to overcome the biggest complaint, which is back, wrist and shoulder difficulties or repetitive stress injuries.” Given the inherent physical demands of patient care – the long hours on your feet; the near constant interaction with scores of patients; the stress of dealing with emergencies – it is imperative that front-end staff can easily and accurately operate bedside equipment.
The goal of any administrator should be to equip his or her staff with ergonomic tools that maximize comfort, prevent repetitive stress injuries, reduce eyestrain and improve overall work efficiencies. These attributes are manifest in the AFC PC (Point of Care) Cart series. This cart series is height-adjustable to enable computer use while the user is standing or seated. Due to their small footprint and large casters, advanced computer technology is available to staff in almost any location within a facility. With these carts, your front-line workers are able to perform their critical duties without the additional stress of grappling with their equipment.
2. Facility Layout
While mobile workstations can offer a great deal of options in terms of maneuverability and point-of-care interactions, the layout of a facility is often an inflexible structure that will dictate the nature and function of most of your frontline tools. Michael Couch, Marketing Manager for Medical Casework and Care Exchange Products at Midmark, elaborates on this point when he states, “Understanding the needs for the facility is key to making good choices in workstation products. [As an administrator] if my need is for a room workflow and the workstation will not leave the room, the expectation is different from a workstation that needs to be accessible at any point along a corridor or floor. One choice may have limited accessories because it is more about having access to the EMR/EHR and that is it, where the other option may need to be more robust because of the additional technology that is attached or used with the primary PC, and the need for these items to have continuous power throughout the day or possibly 24 hours a day can drive different needs.” Prior to purchasing new mobile workstations, a clear workflow map must be created that incorporates the facility’s front lobby, emergency treatment areas, recovery rooms, labs, patient rooms, admitting offices, etc. If this map is not carefully created and considered, the likelihood of mismanaged, or even unused, carts increases significantly.
3. Power Supply
The batteries in any portable device play a pivotal role your staff’s ability to provide a high level of patient care. As more mobile workstations become computerized, a cart system’s performance and reliability depends heavily on the type and size of battery used. Management of these power sources, however, is an often overlooked area. If not addressed in a prudent and timely fashion, battery life can run out suddenly, which can be potentially catastrophic in terms of your facility’s level of patient care. If a cart goes down, for example, your front-line staff has to find another mobile cart immediately, because in today’s world of electronic healthcare records (EHR) and bar-coded medication administration (BCMA), it is difficult, if not impossible, to work without the computer access granted by a mobile cart. With this fact in mind, administrators should not only look for portable power sources that stay charged for entire work shifts, but that can also be quickly recharged as well. Additional preference should be given to batteries that are independent from a cart’s electronic components so future chemistry upgrades or replacements can simply be a matter of replacing only the battery. These features not only ensure sustained performance over the course of a typical work day, but they also mitigate any costs relative to future upgrades or replacement equipment.
An example of a consistent, yet flexible, power supply comes from Metro’s next-generation power systems. Its advanced Li-Nano battery option features runtimes up to 13 hours and lasts over 5,000 cycles. This power system provides easy access for maintenance, upgrades and replacements given that they are housed independently from the main electronic system. Its fanless charging mode minimizes the circulation of dust and other contaminants and recharges the system in three hours, while a fast-charge mode can replenish a depleted power supply in as little as two hours. Administrators must recognize the need for these sorts of power supply features because without them, a potent mobile cart can be rendered quickly into a very expensive, yet useless, piece of office furniture.
Do you have concerns with your staff meeting the evolving meaningful-use mandates as they relate to how workers are expected to create accurate documentation at the point of care? There are many cart accessories and features on the market that address these concerns by enabling your front-line staff to use the medical devices and IT tools they need to work at a patient’s bedside. Administrators should seek workstations that allow for complete, undistracted data entry at the point of care, thus eliminating possible documentation errors caused by interrupted work tasks created when workers are forced to input data outside the patient’s room.
“Metro AccessPoint offers the advanced technology, flexible integration options and fast fleet deployment that facilities are demanding to manage the rapid changes in healthcare IT and to meet the evolving meaningful-use mandates,” says Rob Sobie, Vice President of Healthcare Solutions at Metro. “As part of the Metro Access platform, our newest mobile computing workstation gives facilities a powerful tool for improving efficiency and reducing cost while progressing through the HIMSS EMR adoption model.” These considerations are vital given that in Stage 1 of meaningful use, several objectives are focused on medical documentation as it relates to patient engagement that can often occur from a mobile workstation. These objectives include:
• Providing patients with an electronic copy of their health information, upon request;
• Providing patients with an electronic copy of their discharge instructions, upon request;
• Sending reminders to patients per patient preference for preventative/follow-up care; and
• Providing clinical summaries for patients for each office visit.
While these objectives may seem minor, they are critical steps that facilities must make to move away from paper-based documentation and toward electronic data entry and communication. With the proper mobile carts in use, a facility can begin this sometimes arduous change and move in a comfortable, more effective fashion.
Rubbermaid Healthcare’s CareLink Mobile Nurse Station
5. Advanced Features
Today’s healthcare industry is becoming more and more digitally driven at an exponential rate. While these demands often yield emerging technologies that some may deem superfluous, healthcare administrators must reflect upon how the latest advancements in information and communications technologies present within new mobile carts can not only expand their hospital’s modes of patient care, but also improve their hospital’s efficiencies.
For example, many facilities are incorporating telehealth hardware and applications in order to expand their care and communications capabilities. By integrating one-way or two-way audiovisual technologies with high-performance mobile computing workstations, hospitals can give their patients access to top specialists – anywhere, anytime. Michael Couch, Marketing Manager for Medical Casework and Care Exchange Products, Midmark states, “Telehealth and telemedicine are buzzwords right now, but many providers think that this technology is only for the large health systems or for large and elaborate workstations. This is not the case. Many groups are now looking at how this concept can be used in a much more budget-friendly way through the use of modern laptops, PCs and tablets while not sacrificing the security needs for the patient data.”
“Telehealth provides the patient more options,” says Couch. “In a day and age where many patients are working multiple shifts and irregular schedules throughout the week, telehealth helps fill a void for these patients and many others. If I as a patient am able to access quality care at non-office hours or without the drive to the office and the wait in the exam room, there is some value for me as a patient. Telehealth is not just for the patient, but for the providers as well. As a provider, I am able to conduct visits virtually and in real time without the need for a drive to the office or a hospital setting. This allows the provider to better utilize their time all while providing quality care.”
By leveraging mobile computing workstations at the point of care, these real-time interactions can result in improved clinical decision making, physician satisfaction and hospital reputation, all while reducing costs. As powered workstations, the Midmark 6261 and 6263 allow movement and communication across the whole facility, or even facilities. Telehealth in ambulatory settings, including many practices and systems, is generally focused on cost-effective options, such as Skyping with another location or having the ability to use a laptop camera and/or add-on camera and wireless to have connectivity across facilities or exam rooms. The 6261 and 6263 powered workstations make it possible to quickly and effectively share information, regardless of location.
Another area where front-line staff can benefit from certain advanced carts is in fleet management. The recent introduction of “smart carts,” or mobile nurse stations, helps to streamline workflows and foster interactive communication at the point of care; benefiting hospitals in more ways than one. With tools that help nurses to communicate with other departments more efficiently and share information with patients, smart carts have the ability to positively affect Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) scores and staff satisfaction while enabling easy asset management for IT. However, building and maintaining a fleet of mobile carts can often lead to a need of additional time, resources and expertise that many facilities cannot afford. Ignoring these considerations invariably leads to inefficient cart use and potentially decreased patient care. Administrators should consider Rubbermaid Healthcare’s CareLink Mobile Nurse Station, which boasts an intelligent platform that enables IT to proactively manage its fleet remotely without having to access the EMR or hospital servers. With on-board computer functionality to transmit cart data and user information to keep your fleet running at optimal performance, CareLink provides a secure, versatile connection between the IT and nursing staff.
It goes without saying that administrators who support their front-line staff not only increase their employees’ morale but also their hospital’s overall level of patient care. One of the most impactful ways of creating such a working environment is to provide these vital players with the most effective tools. While purchasing the best mobile workstations can be a difficult decision for healthcare system planners and implementers, when correctly matching the needs of a facility with the appropriate features and capabilities of a given mobile workstation, human error and operating expenses are kept to a minimum while care improves. However, when core considerations are not made ahead of time, a facility may encounter instances of workflow inefficiencies, compliance violations, wasted supplies and deficient patient care.
Tags: Strategic Directives