Every once in a while I like to dip into the ol’ mail bag when I get a question that I either haven’t answered before or conditions/practices have changed enough to update an initial response. In this particular instance, we’re covering some territory that I’m pretty sure we’ve not aired previously (as near as I can tell…).
Q: I would like to get your take on patient elopement (or simply leaving without signing, or refusing to sign AMA forms), and the longstanding practice of having security staff, maintenance staff, etc., pursue these patients. These types of things make corporate legal departments cringe, and it leaves Plant Operations directors caught in the middle of “should we respond or not” debates.
A: Thanks for your question. I really think that your description of the reaction of legal departments to the “pursuit” of eloped/eloping patients is pretty much on the money and that’s why (in my mind), they are the ones that need to be the determining factor when establishing a response protocol for elopement. I have certainly worked with organizations for whom a “simple pursuit” protocol has ended very badly with patients injured, and in a couple of instances, worse (I’ll refrain from the details) during response to an elopement. Someone who is eloping tends to want to elude (or otherwise outrun) their pursuers and sometimes they’re not paying attention to where they are going (I liken it to chasing a toddler—the “state of mind” of some of your elopers is not so very far from a toddler—they spend a lot of time looking over their shoulder and not looking where they are going). At the hospital at which I used to work, the legal folks said if the patient eloping leaves the property, then you let them go and call the local authorities (recognizing that their response is going to be dependent on what’s going on in the community) and work (which you can certainly interpret to mean “hope) towards a good outcome. Unless someone is really mentally incapacitated, you can usually figure out where they are going, so that becomes information that can be shared with law enforcement.
All that said, it is of critical importance to have a specific response plan (you can leave a little leeway for specific cases, but you really need to have a consistent overall approach) that has been developed in collaboration with clinical (including physicians), legal, and support leadership. Everyone has to be on the same page if we are not going to be putting anyone (and that includes the folks responding) at risk.
I know this is something that faces healthcare organizations all across the country including, I suspect, some of the folks out there in the audience. So I put the question to you: How are you managing response for eloped patients? Is it a “let them go and call the cops” response protocol or more of a “bring ’em back” response? I suspect that we could have some interesting dialogue on this one, so please weigh in as you can.