Vulnerability – Think Hospitals Aren’t Susceptible to Equipment Theft?A real-time location system (RTLS), analogous to indoor GPS, can be used to track the location and movement of expensive hospital equipment, thereby reducing hospital equipment theft.
Hospitals are losing money every day as costly equipment walks out the door. Take a look at the number of wheelchairs we recently photographed in a hospital parking garage. Undoubtedly, these wheelchairs were used to transport a patient to a vehicle and then just left behind; a seemingly innocent act, that certainly leaves them as a prime target for theft. With price tags from $250 up, wheelchairs are not the most expensive items in the hospital – but, they tend to go missing faster than they can be replaced.
Hospitals lose thousands of dollars in equipment each year – items like electronic thermometers, special diagnostic lights, scopes, etc. The impact is two-fold – the cost of replacement, likely at the expense of spending money on new, advanced equipment to treat patients; and the immediate impact to patient care when the next patients arrive and they don’t have what they need to help them. Imagine the danger that some lifesaving equipment may be missing when needed.
Oftentimes, missing equipment is inadvertently “stolen” when it is discharged with a patient. Such was the case at Awarepoint RTLS client, Tri-City Medical Center in Oceanside, California. Administrators there grew increasingly frustrated when expensive Wound Vacuum Assisted Closure (VAC) devices would turn up missing. Upon research, the hospital found patients were being discharged without disconnecting the hospital-owned portable equipment. At an average cost of $25,000 each, this posed a serious concern. With the use of Awarepoint’s RTLS, Tri-City Medical Center was able to track their Wound VACS and designate an “exit alert” any time they entered the main lobby. The alert was forwarded to a nurse manager in real-time who could politely return the patient to the floor to disconnect the hospital-owned equipment before discharge and help arrange an appropriate rental replacement. Within the first 2 weeks, they saved 2 from accidentally going with patients, at a value of nearly $50,000.
And, yes, sometimes, missing equipment is the work of professional thieves, who may dress like hospital or service employees, or the hospital’s own staff, who steal expensive medical equipment to resell on sites like Ebay®.
“04/28/2010 - NEWARK, N.J. – A registered nurse pleaded guilty today to stealing over $300,000 in medical equipment and supplies from the Passaic County hospital in which she worked and selling it over the Internet, United States Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.”
“Police Make Arrest In Medical-Equipment Thefts … the theft of several defibrillators -- a medical device that could mean the difference between life and death.”
Feb. 19, 2010 – ABC News Medical Unit: “Hospitals Report Some Patients Cleaning Them Out. Waste, Theft May Drain Hospital Coffers”
1/30/2008 - A former Fox Chapel man was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison today for stealing $1.6 million worth of colonoscopes from 22 hospitals in six states.
WoundVAC for sale – “No, KCI does not sell these, and unless you find one that is stolen, it is unlikely you would find one for sale.”
Whatever the case, loss, stolen and misplaced equipment are creating financial loss for hospitals, and threatening safe, patient care. RTLS is one tool hospitals can use as part of an overall prevention and awareness campaign. RTLS can be used to track the location and movement of expensive hospital equipment. While not a substitute for additional security measures; time, location and event based alerts can provide proactive monitoring to help circumvent an inadvertent problem, or uncover a more serious theft issue.
Do you have stories to share about equipment loss or theft in your hospital? What methods or technologies are you using to combat the problem?