Special report: Stop equipment theft dead in its tracks

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Special report: Stop equipment theft dead in its tracks

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

Under the scope
This is not to say that intentional equipment theft doesn’t happen as well. Mobile electronic devices tend to be a popular draw for purloiners looking for something light, quick and valuable-looking.

“One of our customers had a shrinkage of mobile medical equipment of 13 percent every year — it added up to being a few hundred thousand dollars,” says Peck, who also noted that the provider was able to get that number down to zero after installing an RTLS system.

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Of course, sometimes this can backfire when the thieves aren’t familiar with the technology they’re stealing. “We have patient tracking tags, and sometimes a lot of the patients at inner city hospitals are actually stealing the tags and trying to sell them in the street until they realize there’s no value in them because they only work with that hospital’s system,” says Peck.

On the other hand, hospitals are justifiably worried about protecting instruments that are light, hard to tag and very expensive. Stethoscopes, for example, run $800 on average and can be relatively easy to steal.

“We’ve even had reports of people stealing flexible endoscopic equipment,” says Bryant Broder, senior product manager at Skytron.

Endoscopic equipment in particular presents a challenge for hospitals to track, since they’re small, are used to look inside the patient, and must go through a harsh, punishing disinfection process after use.

It’s not feasible to track them with battery- powered active tags that track them in real time, but they can still be tracked with a passive tag, which is activated when the instrument approaches certain areas they shouldn’t be in, such as near doors leading out of the hospital.

But this begs the question: who’s buying this equipment off the thieves? A black market does exist for ill-gotten medical equipment. A cursory search on eBay will return pages of endoscopic instrument listings — not all of it gotten through legal channels.

“It’s not uncommon for the manufacturer of the instrumentation to call the hospital because an unauthorized person asked for a repair and the instrument wasn’t assigned to them. Titanium instrumentation for hips, knees, backs — that kind of stuff — it’s a huge loss,” says Broder.

One man’s trash
All told, however, thievery only accounts for a small portion of the total inventory loss in most hospitals. It’s more common for equipment to get lost after an operation, for example, when the room is being cleaned and prepped for the next patient. In fact, it’s surprisingly common for equipment worth tens of thousands of dollars to end up in the trash by mistake.

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