Mobile medical computer carts and workstations are critical to the efficiency of today’s healthcare systems. For more than 15 years, they have been used to keep electronic health records (EHR) and to verify and administer medication at patient bedsides.

Image of a basic battery management systemMost mobile carts feature onboard power systems equipped with single or multiple batteries intended to provide enough energy to run computers, displays, scanners and other devices for extended periods of time without recharging. Power systems run the gamut from simple battery chargers to sophisticated software-driven systems. Sophisticated systems can prove highly economical for both the manufacturer and end user over the life of the cart because of their adaptability to future changes in technology and their ability to optimize the performance of onboard batteries. These systems ensure that cart peripherals are safely and efficiently powered while properly managing batteries to reduce premature failures or costly battery replacements.

Computer carts with unsophisticated power systems are notorious for their high lifecycle costs for both the cart manufacturer and the end user. For end users, poor battery charging results in disappointingly abbreviated run times and fleeting battery life cycles. Because low end systems do not charge batteries to manufacturer requirements, battery replacement is an ongoing logistical problem and expense for the healthcare provider. End users have adapted to this poor performance by leaving carts plugged in, which reduces their work efficiency and increases operating costs.

For mobile cart manufacturers, warrantee service costs of failed power systems can escalate very quickly and eat into the profit from the cart’s original sale. Replacement of batteries under warrantee is another ongoing manufacturer expense.

As the technology needs of EHR systems grow and change, manufacturers must service the cart to build platforms that accommodate the new equipment. Additional equipment means that power systems must be redesigned to provide the energy needed for equipment to run reliably. This lack of adaptability presents challenges and results in unanticipated costs for both the cart manufacturer and end user.

If the cart’s power system does not meet current and anticipated workflow requirements, the hospital or healthcare facility’s huge investment in mobile EHR workstations is compromised. End users must decide whether to add onto the existing system at significant expense to the healthcare facility, or scrap the cart and shop for more advanced mobile equipment. Cart manufacturers can easily remedy these long-term problems by specifying flexible, adaptable power management systems into their carts to allow for advancements in peripheral technology and battery chemistries.

High Performance Power Management Systems
For a small percentage of the overall cost of a mobile workstation, manufacturers can specify a high performance power management system that is easy to maintain and service and will work reliably over the lifecycle of the cart. Designed for safety and optimized performance, these systems offer configuration flexibility to seamlessly accommodate future equipment upgrades, allowing EHR electronics to work properly without causing maintenance problems for the manufacturer or frustration for the end user.

High performance systems are IEC 60601-1 3rd edition compliant, a third party certification that validates the system’s physical safety for the end user and the OEM. This pedigree eliminates the costs of extensive safety testing on the system and associated risk management costs. Sophisticated, IEC 60601-1 compliant power management systems feature safety interlocks to protect batteries from premature failure, with circuitry that isolates and protects both sensitive electronics and the user.

Workstations with high performance power management systems are programmed to manage a variety of battery chemistries according to the battery manufacturer’s specifications. These systems accommodate multiple battery manufacturers, models, sizes, and types with customized charging parameters optimized for that specific battery. As new battery technologies are introduced to the market, updated charging profiles can be imported to existing software to ensure specific and accurate charging. This extends battery life, helps reduce failures and minimizes change outs and replacements.

High performance power management systems optimize the longevity of the battery and the length of time between complete charges. These systems use battery power more efficiently so fewer batteries are required, minimizing swap-outs for the end user and battery warrantee problems for the manufacturer. End users have no need to invest in extensive inventories of batteries and remote battery charging stations associated with hot swap systems, battery changing programs that are logistical nightmares for healthcare staff.

Sophisticated power management systems maintain data on battery usage, handling and lifecycle. They update the user with alerts and emails on maintenance concerns, and will even disconnect the battery in the event of an excessive discharge that might damage the battery’s health. Battery data can also be used to assist in determining the root cause of battery failures, to properly classify warranty claims and to correctly assign costs associated with battery replacement.

In addition to economic benefits, high performance systems can be used to differentiate quality between one cart manufacturer and another. Several benefits make it easier to market workstations with flexible, adaptable power management systems. For example:

  • Cart users can easily monitor the battery’s level of charge and the time remaining before charge or discharge using the power management system. An intuitive display with 15 to 20 LEDs and a software controlled linearized gauge precisely estimates the state of the battery’s charge with remaining time often estimated in hours and minutes.
  • Power management systems protect the safety of patient data by warning the user several times as the battery approaches full discharge. After these low battery warnings, smart systems provide an orderly automatic shutdown, eliminating the possibility that data will be lost.
  • With smart systems, battery maintenance is simple and proactive. Rather than having a dedicated team that either reacts to user complaints or replaces all cart batteries en masse based on a fixed maintenance schedule, smart systems eliminate unnecessary work by sending alerts to advise users on the state of each individual cart’s battery health. Users know that batteries require maintenance well in advance of any adverse effect on productivity.

Since the life expectancy of a typical mobile medical workstation is five to seven years, both cart manufacturers and end users benefit greatly from flexible, adaptable power management systems that evolve to accommodate changes in workflow, hardware, software, and battery technologies over the cart’s service life. The latest power management systems are being designed to advance flexibility and adaptability and further optimize battery life and usage.

Latest Power Management InnovationsImage of a hybrid power management systems
The latest breakthrough technology in power management are hybrid, open protocol systems that integrate easily into the manufacturer’s existing cart platforms. Designed to accept nearly any battery technology, these cutting edge systems convert the battery’s DC power into both AC and DC outputs.

This hybrid power output allows the power management system to efficiently operate any electronic device or accessory without converters, inverters or adapters. Such a system provides the flexibility to add hardware by simply plugging new devices into existing ports on the workstation. Hybrid power management is both efficient and cost effective as the cart manufacturer never needs to rebuild the workstation to accommodate new hardware or changing battery chemistries.

Hybrid systems operate anywhere in the world, accepting universal input power from 100 to 240VAC, 50/60 Hz. A single SKU effectively services all cart platforms for the manufacturer, reducing inventory management issues and costs. Practically all voltages are available so manufacturers do not need to update the system as end users add devices. To accelerate battery charging, these versatile, IEC 60601-1 3rd edition-compliant systems provide 450 watts of power to rapidly charge any size battery with 25 amps of power.

New hybrid power management systems accommodate any future battery chemistry innovations with a simple update to the system’s battery charging software. The system’s charging efficiency extends battery life and minimizes the frequency of battery replacement, reducing replacement and recycling costs. Health of the battery and the system can be managed remotely with network based software or email alerts.

Differences between basic, high performance, and hybrid power management systems

Benefit: Long-Term Cost Avoidance
During the design process, engineers and manufacturers must decide whether to save money by specifying lower cost battery chargers into their workstations or to invest a little more and install sophisticated power management systems. Sophisticated systems not only help to control day-to-day operating costs, they also minimize business risks and expenses, and allow cart manufacturers to avoid costs associated with potential crises involving battery failure.

For example, cases exist where overcharged batteries have outgassed in medical facilities, expelling white powder and/or chemical odors. Frightened patients and staff are immediately evacuated until the cause of the odor and residues can be determined. Next comes an investigation of the cause, which can involve both the cart and battery manufacturer and anyone who services the system. Patients or even the healthcare facility may potentially file damaging lawsuits. At minimum, the reputation of the cart manufacturer can be compromised.

In cases where batteries fail and EHR devices shut down unexpectedly, untimely loss of critical patient data can be inconvenient or even life threatening depending upon the nature of the health care department using the cart. Again, at the very least, the reputation of the cart manufacturer and their products is compromised.

A high performance power management system will decrease the overall operating costs to the end user and increase the reliability and safety of onboard batteries and sensitive electronics and the security of patient data. By investing in these systems, cart manufacturers can strengthen the reputation of their product among end users, reduce service calls and warrantee issues, and minimize liability and risks related to catastrophic battery failure.

Side-by-side graphic comparison of a basic battery management system and a hybrid power management system