Hospitals Report Some Patients Cleaning Them Out

Ethics aside, experts explain why hospital theft is a bad idea.

ByABC News
February 18, 2010, 6:34 PM

Feb. 19, 2010— -- Stuck in the hospital and not sure what you will pick up for your kid's birthday or how you will get it? If you were one of the less ethical patients, you might grab the heart monitor you're hooked up to.

Hospital consultant Jack Parker said he ran into a situation with a patient who took that tact while working with a hospital several years ago.

With a $1,000 heart monitor missing, the physician actually called the patient, who was adamant that she did not know where it had gone. The physician drove to the house.

"When he rapped on the door, the son came to the door, and guess what he had in his hand? The monitor," said Parker.

At a time when hospital expenditures are coming under increasing scrutiny, some hospitals are taking steps to halt a problem of patients treating hospital room amenities like an all-you-can-eat buffet.

"Not only do the towels, sheets, and linens walk out the door, but also the clock, the oxygen meters, and anything else that isn't tied down," one hospital executive recently wrote VHA, Inc., a network that helps hospitals improve efficiency and clinical care, and which Parker works for.

"We have had televisions that went out the door," Parker said, adding that now his clients bolt them down. "We have had IV pumps and wheelchairs out the door as well. We did have all the television controls missing until we finally purchased the type that is programmed to work with the only the TV set in the room. What an expense!"

Parker said the only real solution is for hospitals not to leave a lot of excess items in patients' rooms, such as not putting eight towels in a room that needs two. Taking a credit card as a deposit like a hotel does is likely not an option, he added, and asking nursing staff to be on the lookout isn't likely to work either.

While Parker said he has spoken with nurses who caught patients' relatives walking out with bags full of hospital linens, "I think, unfortunately, the nursing staff at the hospital is busy doing patient care ... so we're always asking them to keep an eye out, but it's not fair to put that onus on them."

For some expensive items, such as wheelchairs and medical equipment, extra security measures should be taken, such as tagging them with chips with alarms, Parker said, a step that likely will become more useful once such tags drop in price.