Medical carts, or workstations on wheels, have become a staple tool for hospitals and other health care facilities. They allow nurses and health care practitioners to wheel medical grade computers to different locations in the hospital, as well as peripheral devices, instruments and medication, among other items. They can save a lot of time and effort for your staff, and come in a variety of options to address the specific needs of individual medical organizations.

Medical carts are further divided into two basic categories: powered carts, which provide their own power source for computers and other peripherals via an integrated battery; and non-powered carts, which offer no battery and require the computers and other components they carry to find other power sources. Both options provide benefits and drawbacks for your staff. If you’re thinking of purchasing a new cart or carts for your organization, it pays to evaluate the pros and cons very carefully. We’ve provided a quick breakdown of the most pertinent differences between powered and non-powered carts below.


Any mobile cart, whether powered or non-powered, must feature an ergonomic design that makes it easy to move and work with without risking repetitive stress disorders and similar injuries. Weight plays a huge role in that process. A heavy workstation-on-wheels can take a toll on those who use it; in the worst cases, they can cause active injury, and even those that can be maneuvered readily carry the risk of chronic pain to hospital staff.

A recent study from Biomedical Journal and Scientific and Technical Research reported an increase in lower back pain for nurses on the job: rising from 16.8% before they began nursing up to a staggering 85% afterwards. Heavy lifting was cited as a significant factor in such injuries in 78.2% of cases. Specifics vary widely by workload, the physical size and strength of the affected staff members, and factors related to the physical location (such as needing to push weight up a ramp or incline), but clearly the less physical strain a given medical staff has to deal with, the better.

Some of that can be addressed by the construction of any workstation on wheels your staff uses: look for features like adjustable heights, trays that can pan and tilt, and rotating wheels with low rolling resistance. However, when it comes to sheer weight, non-powered carts hold a clear advantage over their powered cohorts. Without the weight of a battery they are easier to move, present a smaller footprint (i.e., their length and width are narrower which requires less floor space), and place less strain on the joints and muscles of your staff. This is of particular importance if the workplace features tight quarters, as many ORs and patient rooms do.

Power Supply

Powered hospital carts are used to run the computers connected to them via batteries integrated into the cart. Those batteries have a finite amount of power, and must be periodically recharged if they’re going to do their jobs. This can be difficult in hospital settings and similar facilities, which often have to run 24/7 in order to treat their patients. A powered cart can take anywhere from 2-6 hours to recharge. If you have to recharge the cart two times a day that becomes an instant liability: the cart takes up space without its computer delivering any utility in exchange. This can have a serious impact on workplace efficiency. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, equipment shortages caused by recharging or otherwise disabled computers on wheels wastes as much as 10% of a hospital staff’s work day: forcing them to work longer hours.

Non-powered carts rely on computers with hot-swap batteries, which eliminates the need to connect them to the battery from a powered cart. (Hot swapping refers to a battery that can be safely removed and replaced with a fresh battery without a loss of power to the computer. That allows for 24/7 use without spending any time recharging.) The question then just comes down to selection. Obviously with a powered cart, you have greater flexibility with regard to the computer you can mount on it. A non-powered cart limits you to just computers with hot swap batteries.

Longer Run Times

Simply put, it is important to understand how long your computer cart will run before the battery needs to be charged. That could mean the battery that powers the cart itself on a powered cart, or the hot swap batteries that power the computer on a non-powered cart. Run time is important for a number of different reasons. As we mentioned before, having to plug a cart into a power outlet to charge can lead to a lot of downtime, and wasted hours for staff. In this sense using a medical cart computer with hot swap batteries makes more sense. A solution like this provides for 24/7 run time as depleted batteries can be swapped out for fully charged ones throughout the day. Even if a facility chose to plug in a hot swap battery computer to recharge, instead of using spare batteries, the smaller batteries in a computer would return to full capacity much more quickly than a large cart battery, leading to less downtime.

The importance of run time goes beyond mitigating downtime. As with all Lithium Ion batteries, they will lose their ability to hold a full charge over time. This typically happens after about 300 cycles. The more often you have to recharge the battery, the quicker the battery start to deplete. The longer the run time of your power supply, the longer you can go without needing to purchase a replacement battery. Computers with hot swap batteries tend to have much longer run times than a cart battery, and are also much cheaper to replace.

Charging Peripherals

Carts can also be used to carry peripheral devices throughout the care facility. In many cases, such peripherals may require power of their own. Barcode scanners and printers are two very common devices that are mounted on medical carts. One advantage a powered cart has is the ability to power these types of devices. However, if you have a hot swap medical computer that can also power a peripheral device, then the advantage is neutralized. That is a question that needs to be asked when researching a medical cart solution.

Utility is the name of the game when it comes to workstations on wheels. Every facility and end user has a different set of requirements that must be met and the balance between cost and functionality must be weighed. That tipping point will be different for everyone. For more information on powered vs. non-powered carts and the computers that would best pair with them you can contact us here.