VHA survey reveals patients stealing items from hospital rooms

Irving, Texas (Feb. 9, 2010) - As the health care industry continues to identify waste and opportunities to lower costs without negatively impacting patient care, a new survey from VHA Inc., the national health care network, reveals that patients take numerous items from hospital rooms when they are discharged, costing hospitals at least $52 million annually.

That figure was extrapolated using the results from the survey of nearly 100 hospital supply executives. Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of the hospitals reported that patients and/or family members pilfered items, ranging from towels and linens to light bulbs, TV remotes and even phones. 

While the financial loss from stolen supplies may not be huge for each hospital, less than $15,000 a year as reported by nearly 30 respondents, it's another headache for hospitals, and represents dollars that could be used by hospitals to invest in clinical and operational improvements that would result in better care for patients. 

"Patients need to understand that hospitals are not hotels and do not factor room supplies into the cost of health care," said Jack Parker, a VHA supply chain expert who works with hospitals on supply chain efficiency projects.

"Hospitals have to eat the cost for any stolen item, which decreases the hospitals' operating margins, and hospitals are already under enormous financial pressures. VHA looked at this issue as part of our overall focus on helping hospitals manage and improve supply operations, supply inventories and operational efficiency."

The VHA survey reveals the most commonly pilfered items from patient rooms are:

  • Towels
  • Pillows
  • Bed linens
  • Phones
  • Surgical scrubs

"Given the size of the problem, this obviously isn't a primary area of focus for VHA, but we do have recommendations for hospitals to minimize the potential impact of the problem, such as not overstocking the patient rooms. If you stock eight towels in the room when it should really only have two towels, you may be accidentally giving someone an invitation to take the towels," said Parker.

Today, with hospitals facing increasing demands from the government, patients and the industry, while still recovering from the economic downturn, every dollar saved on supply costs will positively impact the hospital's bottom line, said Parker.

VHA provides its members with contracting services, supply chain consulting services and analytical tools, such as VHA SupplyLYNXTM, to help hospitals gain insights into their supply spending and identify opportunities to drive operational efficiencies that increase savings.