Tablets at the bedside: How to stay charged up
Whenever we discuss our new patient engagement table, which is an over-bed table with a mount for tablets, we are asked about a highly practical matter: How does the tablet get powered or recharged? And what about smartphones and other portable devices patients and visitors will want to charge? How can hospital staff manage all these cables and chargers safely without interfering with care?
It’s an important discussion, whether a healthcare organization is providing the tablets or using a “BYOD” approach that accommodates patients’ and clinicians’ own devices. For now, given more hospitals are deploying their own tablets, we’ll share insights on power considerations for hospital-issued tablets.
Who is in charge?
The first thing to consider is how often a tablet will be in use and how often its battery will need to be recharged. Battery runtimes can be hard to predict since they depend on the specific device and the applications used. For instance, a tablet wirelessly streaming HD video will not last as long as the same device using a less power-hungry application, such as music streaming. And, of course, a tablet plugged into an AC outlet stays charged continuously without draining a battery.
Continuous charging requires easy access to a power source. In the absence of a reliable and practical wireless or induction-charging scheme, power via a POE (power over Ethernet) cable or a hospital-grade cord to the underside of a bed or to the headwall is, at some point, required.
Other cord and cable considerations include:
- Will the cord be a tripping hazard for the patient, visitors or clinicians?
- If the cord is not always plugged in, who is responsible to plug it in, and when?
- Should an additional, albeit expensive, battery be incorporated to extend run-time?
These common concerns require choices or tradeoffs, for which a compromise might be required. If it’s unrealistic for the patient to charge a device, then the next logical option may be nursing staff. However, adding to a nurse’s already high workload is not ideal. That said, a case may be made that a patient with tablet access to entertainment apps, educational materials and even remote room climate controls are less likely to push the call button that consumes so much of a nurse’s shift.
AC wall outlets vs. USB ports and power strips
Staff seem to favor providing multiple USB ports at the over-bed table over conventional AC outlets that are outside of easy reach for charging devices. In the absence of this, however, patients and visitors will plug their chargers into headwall outlets, which can interfere with a caregiver’s need to access apparatus or devices secured to the headwall.
It’s easy to visualize how multiple wires extending from the wall to the over-bed table or other room furniture can be a nuisance – even a safety hazard. Consider an emergency situation in which extraneous charging cables must be cleared first, slowing down response times. In a healthcare setting, seconds matter.
AC power in close proximity to a patient also is a potential hazard, even when presenting an outlet strip properly rated for this purpose. The risk of fluid contact with AC power is a legitimate concern, so staff should avoid multiple AC sockets on an over-bed table or other patient-used cart in favor of a low-voltage USB charger.
Regardless of how patient-dedicated tablets are powered, and by whom, these increasingly ubiquitous devices must meet runtime demand and must be [re]charged at some point. Future schemes for hospital-safe induction charging, wireless charging (over the air), or perhaps an ambient light-charging capacity will help solve today’s power problems. Until then, cables and chargers are a reality to be considered and managed as part of a tablet implementation.