It’s a staple in medical dramas. A patient is crashing, either isn’t breathing or is having a heart attack. Medical personnel swarm over them, barking out status, orders, or both. Then there’s that one scene where someone rolls in a large box. From it, doctors and nurses pull out the right medical device whether a defibrillator (“clear!”) or drugs.

That box is a crash cart. It’s today’s topic, where we cover what it is, its importance in healthcare, what’s in the box, and the differences between powered and non-powered versions. 

What is a Crash Cart – Overview

A crash cart is a medical cart, a mobile storage unit primarily used to quickly transport medical devices and emergency medication to patients “crashing”, i.e., needing emergency life support asap (example: Code Blue). Also known as a code cart, a crash trolley, or a “MAX cart”, a crash cart can be found:

While some healthcare facilities like hospitals are required by law to have crash carts on the premises, it’s just a recommendation for others like medical offices. 

Crash carts and similar medical carts are not workstations on wheels (WoW), which are sometimes also called medical carts. Healthcare staff use medical carts to house and transport medications and equipment for specific purposes. WoWs are used to move medical cart computers to track and update patients’ health status during rounds. 

Did You Know

The first documented form of a crash cart was developed in 1962 at the Bethany Medical Center in Kansas City, Kansas. This “cardiac cart” consisted simply of a bag valve mask, defibrillator paddles, a bed board, and endotracheal tubes. Three years later, in 1965, Dr. Joel J. Nobel introduced the MAX cart. This version came with features recognizable even today: drawers to store medication, storage units, a treatment table for use when performing CPR, and other life-support devices. For this accomplishment and others, Nobel is considered today the “father” of the crash cart. 

Features of What Goes In a Crash Cart

Crash carts are located in designated sections of hospitals and other healthcare facilities. This makes it easy for the appropriate medical staff to reach them during an emergency.

Crash carts are used when a patient is suffering some sort of circulatory and/or respiratory distress: the patient stops breathing or their heart stops beating. Equipment, devices, and medication typically found on them include:

  • Defibrillators including pads
  • Heart monitor
  • Various suction devices
  • Various bag valve masks 
  • Endotracheal tubes and other intubating equipment
  • Advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) drugs. Examples: epinephrine, lidocaine, sodium bicarbonate, and dopamine
  • First line drugs for treatment of common problems including dextrose, epinephrine for IM use, naloxone, and nitroglycerin
  • A paralytic like succinylcholine to paralyze thrashing patients for treatment
  • Sedatives such as propofol and midazolam to render patients unconscious for treatment
  • Equipment to treat pediatric patients like newborns
  • Required other drugs and equipment per the healthcare organization
  • Files, binders, reference sheets, and other forms of paperwork to document the cart’s inventory, when the equipment was last tested, and other necessary checks. Some facilities are incorporating medical tablets to aid in such tracking 

Drawers of a crash cart are designed to slide in and out easily. Dividers within them allow staff to customize placement of medications and other items within them. They’re also balanced to be extended fully out without tipping the cart. 

The drawers also use some form of locking mechanism. They not only keep the medications and supplies safe from theft, but more importantly show the cart is properly stocked and equipped. This usually takes the form of a plastic breakaway lock. Carts with a broken one means they have been utilized for a code and not properly rechecked and stocked. 

Every cart has casters with wheels to make it easy to move them quickly to the distressed patient. Once there, they can be locked in place. 

No Need for a Plug – Powered Crash Carts

Crash carts, like many medical carts, can be had in non-powered and powered varieties. Features provided by the batteries of powered crash cart may include:

  • Electronically adjustable height, which allows a variety of healthcare staff to move them comfortably and with ease. 
  • Auto-locking drawers for greater security.
  • Built-in power strip to connect devices, tools, emergency equipment, and crash cart accessories. The most common devices are the defibrillators and heart monitors. Otherwise, they run on their own rechargeable batteries or have to be plugged into an outlet at the site of the emergency. 

Closing Thoughts

Crash carts are medical carts specifically used to aid patients in distress, especially major breathing and heart issues. They are specially built for their vital function with features like easy-to-use drawers to store the necessary meds to wheel locks to keep them in place during the emergency. Powered crash carts provide additional features. 

Contact an expert at Cybernet if you’re interested in learning more about how medical computers can be useful in working with your crash carts and their contents. 

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