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The Best Features to Look for in A Medication Transfer Cart

December 18, 2018 | by Brian Shoenfeld

What Is A Medication Transfer Cart?

Medication transfer carts enable a smooth, secure, and reliable exchange of medications from pharmacy to medication carts on the patient floor or point-of-care medication cabinets located in patient rooms. They are most often used in hospitals, nursing homes, and extended care facilities that are responsible for dispensing medications to patients.

Pharmacy technicians load medications in pull-out bins (or drawers) that are located within cassettes inside the transfer cart. A cassette with empty bins can be removed from a medication cart and exchanged with a fully stocked cassette. The technician then rolls the mobile transfer cart to the floor’s medication room or patient medical cabinets where the medications will be dispensed by nurses.

Why Is a Medication Transfer Cart Needed?

Medication transfer carts eliminate the need for healthcare providers to retrieve medications from the hospital pharmacy. Typically, a pharmacy technician will load their transfer cart with the necessary medications to be distributed to patients that day on each floor. When the medications are delivered to medication carts or automated dispensing cabinets in decentralized medication rooms or point-of-care medication cabinets located in or near the patient’s room, nurses can spend more time with patients instead of traveling back and forth to the pharmacy. With 49 percent of nurses considering leaving the profession because of overwhelming workloads, anything the hospital can do to reduce unnecessary tasks can only serve to improve job satisfaction and reduce nurse attrition.

Related: Improving Acute Care Workflow

Medication transfer carts also enable the pharmacy to retain more control over where the medications they dispense go. Only a limited supply of medications leave the pharmacy, typically a days’ worth, and they aren’t simply stored in bulk in decentralized medication rooms on each floor. There is less waste, less drug diversion, and better medication management. Pharmacies are better able to account for the medications that leave their area and there are fewer touches, reducing risk.

Must-Have Features in A Medication Transfer Cart

Medication transfer carts come in various sizes, single or double wide, all containing the said larger “cassettes” that hold smaller individual bins. Many are dual-sided, offering maximum capacity to reduce the number of trips required to hospital floors or patient rooms. Beyond the basic structure of the medication transfer cart, features may vary. It is important to choose a cart that has the following features:

Security Features

Every medication transfer cart should offer a security mechanism to prevent drug diversion or unauthorized access. Powerful medications that are intended only for specific patients are contained in these carts. These carts contain powerful medications that are intended only for specific patients. These drugs can also be expensive. The American Hospital Association reported the price increases for “just four common drugs, which ranged between 479 percent and 1,261 percent, cost the same amount as the salaries of 55 full-time nurses.”

It is critical the hospital or healthcare facility take every precaution to ensure their proper use. The type of security device may vary. Most offer a key locking mechanism, an electronic keypad, RFID technology or other security technology.

Related: Pharmacy Engaged: Report from The 2018 Texas Pharmacy Association Conference

A hospital or healthcare facility must determine which security mechanism is the most secure option for their specific workflow. Certain considerations should be discussed, such as what types of identity management are already in place within the facility? What are the security risk factors present in the facility? What protocols are in place or would needed to be implemented in order to ensure the medication transfer cart is accessed properly?

Customizable Size and Capacity

The beauty of medication transfer carts is that they enable the pharmacy to transport many medications at once from the pharmacy to patient floors or rooms. Depending on the number of patients to be served, a hospital or healthcare facility can determine what size of medication transfer cart they need.

Typically, carts come with 6, 12, 16, 20, or 24 cassettes. The medication transfer carts vary in size, from a single row of shelves to double shelves on both sides of the cart. The bins, too, are often customizable. Facilities can choose the size of the bins within the cassettes and how the bins are configured.

Consider, too, the space the facility has to store and use these carts. Does the pharmacy have enough space to roll the cart to work areas or store them when not in use? Be sure you evaluate available space in every area where the medication transfer cart will be used to determine which cart is best.

Easy-to-Clean Material and Design

Medication transfer carts, like any mobile hospital equipment, should be made with easy-to-clean material to ensure the unit doesn’t transmit pathogens. While medication transfer carts aren’t typically considered high risk, such as a crash cart, any time a cart is transferred throughout a hospital or healthcare facility, it does introduce at least some risk. In fact, a study in the American Journal of Infection Control found clinical staff workstations and medical carts outside of immediate patient zones often host more multidrug-resistant drug organisms (MDROs) than anywhere else.  Most carts will be made primarily of heavy duty, smooth plastic, powder-coated metal or polymer.

It is equally important that the medication transfer cart is designed in such a way that thorough cleaning is possible. This means the cart should not have “nooks and crannies,” hard edges, or any other non-flat surfaces that make it difficult to properly sanitize. Pay special attention to handles, hinges, and locking devices that are often the source of problems.

Extra Workspace

As pharmacy technicians push their medication transfer cart to and from the pharmacy to hospital floors and patient rooms, they often carry paperwork and/or laptops with them. Make it convenient for them to store these items on top of or inside of the cart. Choose a medication transfer cart designed with extra storage space, such as a flat, unobstructed surface on the top of the cart, or a drawer or shelf inside of the cart that can be accessed without using the secure locking device. This way, the technician can quickly retrieve his or her belongings without having to unlock the cart or log in to a locking mechanism.

Medication transfer carts have helped the pharmacy be more efficient, protect the integrity of secure medication management, and reduce costs. Choose the right configuration with the features each environment requires to get the most out of your investment.


About the Author

Brian Shoenfeld

Brian joined Talon in 2014 and brought with him a proven track record for project managing, product development, and increasing operational efficiency. Using his knowledge of STEM, business prowess, and healthcare experience, Brian leads Talon’s operational improvements to create better products and improved customer service. When he’s not in the office, Brian spends time with his wife and two sons and cheers on Syracuse.