Special report: Stop equipment theft dead in its tracks

by Carol Ko, Staff Writer | November 25, 2013
CenTrak AssetTag in use
From the November 2013 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

When we think of hospitals, we don’t usually think of theft. After all, it’s a place for the sick and injured. Most doctors and nurses are focused on helping them get better and don’t have the time nor the inclination to waste any time counting the silver, so to speak.

But given the sheer size and operational complexity of most facilities, disappearing inventory — what hospitals sometimes call “shrinkage” — is an inevitable problem that hits hospitals hard. It’s not uncommon for losses to run into six-digit dollar figures.

“The number we see on average is hospitals losing about 15 percent [of lost inventory] on an annual basis,” says Joel Cook, director of health care solutions at Stanley Healthcare.

Ismaela Swanson, regional manager at operational solutions firm VIZZIA Technologies, was enlisted to help Orange County-based Mission Hospital curb its shrinkage using CenTrak’s real-time location systems. “I can tell you when we got here, the hospital was losing $150,000 a year in lost equipment,” she says. Thanks to VIZZIA’s efforts, that number later went down to around $5,000.

Interest in products that manage and deter loss is clearly growing at a brisk clip. Marketing firm Global Information Inc. projects the RTLS market to grow more than 1300 percent over the next decade, reaching $4 billion by 2022. The study says that much of this growth will be driven by increased demand from health care facilities.

This growth makes sense when considering the challenges hospitals face. As they work to trim their budgets, investing in a system that prevents equipment loss is a relatively straightforward solution that will save them money in the long run. “There’s greater awareness around it now, given health care reform and reimbursement rules,” says Adam Peck, director of marketing at CenTrak.

Pop a wheelie
When we asked experts to name the most commonly stolen item in hospitals, the answer was unanimous: wheelchairs.

It’s a familiar story to any harried hospital administrator trying to keep track of supplies. Families wheeling discharged patients to the parking lots typically fold up their chairs, put them the trunks of their cars, and drive off. Whether they do this with the intention to steal is difficult to know, though most of the experts we talked to said they believed many patients do it out of ignorance, not dishonesty.

“Lots of wheelchairs have tall poles in the back of them — the main reason being so they don’t fit in the trunk of cars,” says Cook.

Regardless of why it’s done, wheelchair thievery is no laughing matter. Wheelchairs can cost hundreds of dollars each, and having them regularly roll off can add up to a hefty loss. Hospitals frequently ask RTLS companies to tag wheelchairs so they have a way of tracking down the patient to ask for the wheelchair back without causing undue commotion or embarrassment.

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