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Preventing Theft in Healthcare
By Sara Freiberg

In the spring of 2019, on a typical Saturday afternoon, hospital video surveillance uncovered three unsuspecting individuals walking casually out of a Pennsylvania hospital, each disguised and carrying full backpacks. Two days later, the hospital reported 18 endoscopy devices missing, totaling nearly a half-million dollars.1 Currently, the suspects have not been identified or located and the hospital is conducting an internal investigation.2

For more than a decade, a surgical assistant at a hospital in California hid surgical staple reloads in his clothes and stored them inside the men’s locker room before taking them at the end of each shift and selling them to various medical supply businesses. The thefts were finally discovered when other employees noticed that their supply of staple cartridges didn’t match the number of surgeries performed.3 When the hospital performed an audit, they discovered $2.9 million worth of surgical staples were ordered over a three-year period, yet they were never used or found in the hospital.4

When a Chicago hospital noticed items missing, security began reviewing their surveillance footage and found that within the course of three months, one of their physicians stole nearly $200,000 worth of equipment, including an ultrasound machine, ultrasound probes, a video printer, infusion and compression pumps, an automated external defibrillator, a suction machine, and a bladder scanner.5

At a hospital in Texas, a biomedical engineer was found removing fiber-optic scopes from the sterile storage department. It was uncovered that a total of 16 scopes were removed within the course of five months, totaling $200,000. The biomedical engineer admitted to selling the scopes to a company in Michigan, where he had received payments of more than $30,000.6

Theft in hospitals isn’t new and until we increase security and tracing measures, hospitals can lose costly inventory. Medical device theft can come from employees; outside vendors; or those posing as hospital staff, service workers, or medical sales reps. When a former hospital employee was questioned on his involvement with medical device theft, he told the police that he committed the crimes because “it was easy and no one asked any questions.”7

Flexible endoscopes and other medical devices and equipment are an easy target for thieves, as they can be small, flexible, and easy to conceal. Medical devices and equipment is costly, which can lead to thieves posting items for sale online, outside of the U.S., on the black market. As healthcare workers, we should ask questions and adopt the mindset of see something, say something. Hospitals are already under enough pressure to decrease margins, and theft can set a department back substantially.

Lost and stolen equipment costs healthcare millions of dollars. In 2016, a hospital in New York discovered that more than $50,000 of stolen equipment was for sale on eBay.8 At a VA hospital in Indiana, more than $1 million worth of medical equipment, such as surgical drills and patient lifts, was stolen, indicating poor hospital record-keeping.9 In 2015, a hospital in California reported more than 300 items missing from 2010 to 2014, valued at more than $11 million.10

We need to have measures in place. Some hospitals find it beneficial to incorporate new technologies that track equipment in real time. Wireless tracking tools such as real-time location systems (RTLS) and radio-frequency identification (RFID) can help prevent loss and inform asset management, maintenance, and purchasing decisions.10 To prevent theft in your facility, consider incorporating the following measures to protect costly assets:

  • Incorporate a vendor sign in, along with a security member that checks visitors before they enter and leave department areas.
  • As healthcare workers, if you see someone roaming the halls without a badge, or if they do not have the proper credentials, identification, or permission to be in the facility, bring it to security’s attention.
  • Incorporate background checks with employees.
  • Issue visitors colored badges, indicating specific rooms or areas to which they may gain access. If visitors walk into the wrong area, employees should take notice and ask if they need assistance.
  • Educate security guards about the threat of medical device theft.
  • Use computerized inventory systems to track equipment closely.
  • Incorporate an audit process.
  • Prohibit outside personnel from entering your facility after certain hours. Ensure sign in records are in place, logging name, date, time, and company.
  • Loading/shipping/receiving docks can be particularly prone to theft as doors are often left open and the area unattended.
  • Install security cameras in instrument and equipment storage, endoscopy cabinets, and loading dock areas.
  • Lock cabinets and supply rooms, allowing only certain staff access and keep records of access.
  • Limit access to certain areas of inventory and equipment.
  • Provide in-service sessions to staff and disclose the costs of devices, dollar amounts of loss, and the impact on the facility.
  • Par levels and inventory controls are important. Refrain from allowing outside reps to count hospital inventory levels.
  • Check inventory discrepancies to determine if there is a pattern or an explanation for theft occurrence.
  • Perform a periodic review of new established suppliers in your vendor file.
  • Reward departments for the lowest number of losses for each month, quarter, and year.

Communicating concerns of theft to all hospital employees is crucial. Hospitals should have written documentation regarding loss and theft, ensuring consequences are communicated with staff and outside vendors who enter the facility. When we consider there are few businesses open 24 hours a day that serve the public, we are vulnerable to theft. Controlling hospital inventory and knowing where vital equipment and devices are at all times is imperative for our patients and our business.

References

  1. https://www.mobileaspects.com/nearly-half-million-dollars-in-endoscopes-stolen-from-pennsylvania-hospital/
  2. https://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2019/04/24/colonoscopes-stolen-lankenau-hospital-lower-merion-township-police/
  3. https://ktla.com/2019/05/06/ex-surgical-assistant-sentenced-to-prison-ordered-to-pay-5-million-for-stealing-supplies-from-riverside-hospital/
  4. https://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/Riverside-Community-Hospital-Worker-Sentenced-Theft-509574291.html
  5. https://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/evanston/ct-evr-north-shore-doctor-charged-with-stealing-medical-equipment-tl-0505-20160503-story.html
  6. https://www.chron.com/neighborhood/tomball/news/article/Man-charged-with-stealing-medical-equipment-from-9496536.php
  7. https://www.campussafetymagazine.com/hospital/police_say_texas_hospital_employee_stole_400k_of_medical_equipment/
  8. https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/lost-and-found-keeping-track-of-health
  9. https://www.wishtv.com/news/local-news/records-show-1-million-worth-of-medical-equipment-missing-from-va-hospital/
  10. https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/lost-and-found-keeping-track-of-healthcare-equipment/434353/

Sara Freiberg, CST, CBSPDT, CER, has more than 15 years experience working as a certified surgical technologist, with five of those years spent traveling to various operating rooms across the U.S. Following Sara’s time in the clinical arena, she worked as a surgical technology didactic and lab instructor at Rasmussen College. Sara holds bachelor degrees in science and business and marketing, which led to her work with various medical device companies as a clinical specialist, product manager, and clinical training manager. She has experience working on quality and regulatory teams, monitoring patient-adverse events, and postmarket surveillance activities.

Sara currently works for Northfield Medical as a clinical education manager where she provides education which is based on current manufacturer and regulatory guidelines regarding various healthcare topics for SPD, OR, and GI staff. Training entails the care and handling of medical devices to ensure patient safety, as well as targeted education addressing departmental cost concerns. Her passion is working with SPD, OR, and GI departments; providing assessments; and sharing best practices with respect to patient and staff safety, surgical instruments, and medical devices. Sara is a voting member of the AAMI ST/WG84, ST91 flexible endoscope committee, and she has developed several CEU presentations approved through CBSPD, CBRN, NCCT, and IAHCSMM. Sara also authors a healthcare article for Ultra Clean Systems.

Sara is currently studying for the Certification Infection Control (CIC) exam through APIC.

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