Medical Identity Theft – One of the Fastest Growing Crimes

From keeping up with the latest technologies to providing top-notch patient care, there’s no doubt that healthcare industry professionals have a lot on their plate these days. But, would you imagine that one of their major concerns has nothing to do directly with patient care? Healthcare practices are spending large amounts of time and money keeping their practices compliant with the latest HIPAA regulations, and working hard to prevent a new trend in crime – medical identity theft. While it may not be making mainstream headlines, according to Javelin Strategy and Research, fraud resulting from exposure of health data has increased 112% year over year, from 3% in 2008 to 7% in 2009. To put this stat in perspective, medical identity theft is regarded as the fastest growing form of identity theft in America today and it is estimated that each year 250,000 to 500,000 people become victims of medical identity theft. Just like identity theft, medical identity theft is the act of stealing medical records or medical information of a patient. Both the medical facility and the patient suffer great losses once they are victimized by this type of crime. Imagine this scenario – when you check your mail one day, you find a giant bill from a hospital emergency room, yet you haven’t been to the doctor for anything other than a routine visit in years. So where did this five-figure bill with your name on it come from? The answer -someone stole your information and used it to obtain medical treatment and/or prescription drugs. Unfortunately, medical theft is a growing epidemic and is largely attributable to the large volume of paperwork medical providers are required to keep, in order to maintain 100% HIPAA compliance. Instances of medical identity theft are commonly reported when:

* Patients’ records are accidentally faxed or mailed to the wrong person * Medical records are stolen and misused after being disposed of improperly * Laptops containing confidential information or medical records are lost or stolen * Medical files left unattended in file rooms, on staff desks and in door folders; or unrestricted physical access to sensitive medical files.

While these security breaches might sound relatively innocuous, they are a huge concern. Not only does the medical facility face damage to their reputation and restitution fees, but also HIPAA has enacted legislation over the last year that makes such breaches very expensive – and on a punitive scale. Even worse, the victim may not realize the crime has occurred immediately due to lags in billing cycles so the theft is larger and potentially more costly. As if these scenarios aren’t nightmarish enough, add the fact that someone’s medical records could be tampered with, leading to improper medical care or misdiagnosis. With these costs to both victims and facilities in mind, preventing medical identity theft must be a high priority for medical facilities. It’s especially critical for smaller practices to take precautionary measures because they may have fewer internal protocols to protect patients…and shallower pockets to weather such an event. Ways to reduce medical identity theft include: