Medical Identity Theft: Are You in Danger?

American Medical News reports that two million people become victims of identity theft each year.  Medical identity theft is the fastest growing type of identity theft in the world and as an healthcare provider, you are at risk.  Take, for example the story of Dr. Anne Peters.  In 2006, Dr. Peters began to receive calls about patients that weren't hers and procedures she didn't preform.  Then, she began to receive notices on back taxes she owed on $750,000 she had never earned.  She was even once detained for over an hour at the airport when returning from a trip abroad.  What was wrong?  A crime ring had set up a medical practice under Dr. Peters' name and was illegally billing Medicare hundreds of thousands of dollars using her name.

There are two kinds of medical identity theft.  The first involves a patient's identification information being compromised, the second involves stealing a healthcare provider's professional information.  Both types of theft negatively affect medical practices.

When a patient's identity is stollen, the patient loses confidence in the services you provide as a healthcare provider.  Medical errors and bad outcomes also result when two patients are fraudulently using the same identity.  Healthcare providers are also subject to penalties under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act if they do not properly protect patient information. If your personal healthcare provider identity information is stolen, identity thieves can place fraudulent claims in your name resulting in situations similar to the one experienced by Dr. Peters.

The key to reducing the damage of medical identity theft is early identification.  If you receive mailings or phone calls about procedures you don't perform or patients that are not yours, don't assume these are a mistake.  Encourage patients to review the EOB documents they receive from their insurance company to ensure they are not being billed for additional office visits of medical procedures.  If you suspect medical identity theft, call your insurer.  Medicare has a toll free line for these situations and responds promptly to cases of possible identity theft.

Be aware of the possibility of identity theft in your clinic or hospital.  Take precautions with your personal information as well as your patient's to prevent experiences like Dr. Peters' from happening to you.