Sourcing medical carts? Here’s what you need to know.

When you think about how hospitals and other healthcare locations can provide quality care as efficiently as possible, it’s unlikely that medical supply carts are the first thing that come to mind. But in reality, they are a critical piece of the puzzle. They provide structure to the way healthcare is administered, increase organizational efficiency, help prevent errors, and let providers meet patient needs more quickly.

These days there are several options to choose from and many configurations. The number of choices can be somewhat overwhelming if you don’t know exactly what you need and what features you should expect. This post outlines the role of medical carts, walks through the types of carts available, and provides some details about the accessories you might want to consider.

The role of supply and medication carts in healthcare settings

It might be evident to the casual observer that medical carts are handy, but healthcare providers know that they are far more critical than that. In healthcare settings, medical supply and medication carts:

Ensure that providers have access to what they need, where they need it – Time spent searching for equipment, supplies, or medications does not add value to the patient experience, nor does it improve health outcomes. With an adequately and smartly stocked supply cart, providers focus 100% of their attention on patient care, improving patient satisfaction, and wellbeing.  Point-of-care carts take this to the next level by placing individual patient medications at the bedside. This gives nurses more time with patients and reduces the risk of medication errors. 

Reduce costs – Efficient inventory management is an essential component of any healthcare cost reduction effort. Research published in the Milbank quarterly journal describes three types of waste in healthcare, administrative, clinical, and operational. Poor inventory management falls under the category of operational waste. Medical supply carts help optimize inventory by serving as a visual indicator when additional supplies are needed. Supplies can be moved from the supply room to the carts just as needed allowing for a smooth flow of items without the need for excess inventory storage.

Prevent drug diversionDrug diversion is an unfortunate reality in today’s world, and hospital administrators must do what they can to prevent it. By providing for the secure storage and transfer of medications, medical supply carts deter drug theft and improve the safety of patients and staff alike. 

Types of Medical Supply and Medication Carts

Every location in a hospital or other healthcare setting may have different supply and medication storage needs. Fortunately, there are a wide variety of carts available to fit any requirement. If you are in the process of sourcing carts, consider whether your organization could benefit from each type.

Point-of-Care Medication Carts

Point-of-care or bedside medication carts make it possible to have individual patient medications readily available instead of forcing nurses to go to the pharmacy or a centralized distribution area to retrieve what is needed. This lets nurses spend more time with the patient and reduces the opportunity for medication errors.

Crash Carts

Crash carts store and transport emergency equipment, supplies, and medication to ensure that physicians and nurses have immediate access to the items they might need to save a life. Crash carts are typically located in high-risk areas such as the emergency department, intensive care, pediatric and surgical floors, and are often stocked with various emergent medications, supplies used for intubations and starting IV lines. They include resuscitation medications, materials to establish peripheral intravenous (PIV) access, respiratory equipment, and supplies, and more. (This study published in the World Journal of Emergency Medicine, has an exhaustive list.)

Isolation Carts

Isolation carts provide a suitable location for personal protective equipment necessary to provide care for patients on isolation precautions. Isolation Carts help with infection prevention and control by giving providers quick access to gowns, gloves, masks. They are also designed to be easily sanitized between uses.

Anesthesia Carts

The process of administering medications in hospital ORs can be time-consuming and inefficient, yet anesthesiologists need quick and easy access to medications to treat their vulnerable patients. At the same time, it is essential that access to the narcotics commonly used in operating rooms be tightly controlled to meet regulatory requirements, ensure patient safety, and fight the serious problem of drug abuse by healthcare providers. Secured anesthesia carts meet both needs.

Transfer Carts

Transfer carts make it possible to conduct a secure and correct medication exchange from the pharmacy or central dispensing room to point-of-care medication cabinets at the bedside, or on the nursing floor. Pharmacy staff maintains control of the inventory until it is dispensed by authorized nursing staff allowing them to focus on properly administering medications, not procuring them.

Supply Carts

According to a report published in Sage Journals, “supply expenses  make up 15% of total hospital expenses, on average, but as high as 30% or 40% in hospitals with a high case-mix index, such as surgery-intensive hospitals.”  The logistics of supply carts are simple, but effective inventory control, and making sure that clinicians have the items they need at hand, both contribute to improving efficiency in healthcare. Supply carts typically contain items like gauze, syringes, blankets, and IV tubing, but they can be configured to meet the specific needs of each hospital or department. 

Blood Center Carts

Blood center carts are used by blood centers to store the equipment and supplies necessary for blood donation and testing. Whether they will be used in a medical office space or taken into the community for a blood drive, blood center carts must be secure, mobile, and compact. 

Medical Supply Cart Accessories

As you can tell, there is a medical supply cart suited to almost every need in a healthcare setting. As you think about what makes sense for your organization, consider the available accessories that might make the ones you select even more useful. Here are some of the accessories that you might add.

•    Uprights with tilted bins

•    A bracket for a sharps container

•    A clip-on waste can

•    An oxygen tank bracket     

•    Suction canister shelves

•    Alternate height drawers

•    Alternate width cassettes

•    Drawer dividers

•    Schedule II drug drawers

•    Key-locking drawers

•    Utility hooks

•    A clipboard holder

•    A glove box holder

Although they are a bit of an unsung hero, medical supply carts and cabinets are essential to the efficient and quick delivery of care. They improve outcomes and patient satisfaction as well as reduce strain on healthcare staff. Sourcing carts for your organization is an important responsibility. We’re happy to chat about your needs and what configurations might be right in your setting.

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