Used patient cloth prepare to go into the washing machine in the hospital.

How Hospital Asset Tracking Can Prevent Costly Medical Equipment Loss

Hospitals lose millions of dollars in value from missing medical equipment every year. An article on Healthcare Dive reported that a San Jose, Calif., hospital lost more than $11 million in medical assets over a four-year period, and referenced another hospital in New York state that saw $50,000 of its missing medical equipment show up on eBay. Statistics cited on Hospital and Healthcare Management estimated that “between 10% and 20% of a typical hospital’s mobile assets are lost or stolen during their useful life … at an average of $3,000 per item.” 

But these losses aren’t inevitable. Having a real-time location system (RTLS) with room-level accuracy can help prevent losses — as demonstrated by these three examples: 

No more dumpster-diving: Immediate alerts for equipment in trash and laundry

Two of the biggest magnets for lost hospital equipment are the trash can and the soiled linen bin. When environmental services staff clean a room between patients, they work quickly, lifting and tying off bags and rolling up bed linens. They won’t be looking closely for a small but expensive piece of equipment, such as a sequential compression device, in the trash bag or between the bedsheets. Often staff will take the laundry and trash to holding areas on that floor, and the bags will remain there until they’re picked up and delivered to the loading dock for disposal offsite. Hospitals lose more equipment than they realize in this way — and because some small pieces of equipment can be expensive, they lose more money than they think, too. 

Hospitals have a short window of time to recover the missing equipment before it leaves the floor, and a room-level RTLS can help. The system can be programmed to send an alert to staff the moment a tagged piece of equipment enters the trash or soiled linen holding room. That enables your staff to take quick action and recover the equipment when it’s located in one of two bins of soiled linen rather than sifting through 20 bins downstairs, or in just a few bags of trash instead of the entire Dumpster outside of the loading dock.

Pinpointing the scene of the “crime”: Solutions for accidental patient theft

Patients are another culprit in hospital equipment losses — although often by mistake. It’s not unusual for a patient to believe they’re supposed to bring a piece of equipment home with them to continue their treatment or recovery. Nor is it uncommon for patients to accidentally sweep a small piece of equipment into a bag as they’re packing up their things before a discharge. But hospitals aren’t like retail stores; there aren’t detectors at every exit waiting to go off when someone passes through them with something they shouldn’t have. And even if they did, hospitals don’t have security guards at the ready to stop such a patient as they leave the hospital. But if you have a room-level RTLS, you have a fighting chance to get that equipment back. 

Using your RTLS, you can identify exactly where a tagged piece of equipment was before it went missing. Then you can cross-reference the information with your hospital’s electronic medical record (EMR). For example, imagine a sequential compression device goes missing after being in room 412 West on Friday, December 10, at 4 p.m. You go to your EMR administrator and learn that Mrs. Jones was discharged at around that time and received compression therapy in 412 West from Dec. 8 to Dec. 10. You surmise Mrs. Jones may have the item, so you place a polite call to ask if that’s the case. If it is, you can offer to send her a FedEx box, ask her to pack up the item, and schedule for FedEx to pick it up. It’s a win-win: You get your equipment back, and she’s spared inconvenience (and potential embarrassment) caused by the mistake. 

Creating a “Hawthorne effect:” Discouraging employee theft

Most hospital employees do not engage in equipment theft. But the unfortunate truth is it does happen because hospital equipment is a lucrative commodity on the secondary market (revisit the eBay resale mentioned in the first paragraph of this post as an example). 

An RTLS can serve as a deterrent by creating a Hawthorne effect. This is the theory that people will change their behavior when they know they’re being watched — like what happens when a person chooses not to steal something when they see a video camera in the corner of a department store or a security system sticker in the window of a home. If you let staff know that all hospital equipment is being tracked using a room-level RTLS, it can serve as a deterrent to anyone considering taking something pricey, such as a diaper scale or a ventilator, off the premises. 

The Takeaway

The Cognosos RTLS can help your hospital reduce these common — but preventable — types of equipment loss, leading to substantial savings for your bottom line. To learn more about these and other benefits of our room-level RTLS technology, schedule a demo today. 

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