Medical identity theft: the importance of protecting your health records

October 9, 2007

Many consumers take precautions against identity theft, but what about medical identity theft? In addition to financial peril, victims can suffer physical danger if false entries in medical records lead to the wrong treatment.

“The crime occurs when someone uses a person's name and sometimes other parts of their identity -- such as insurance information -- without the person's knowledge or consent to obtain medical services or goods,” said Laurinda B. Harman, PhD, RHIA, associate professor and chair of the health information management department at Temple University’s College of Health Professions.

“A person's identity information can also be used to make false claims for medical services or goods. This is not a common event, but patients need to be aware of it,” Harman said. She will discuss the growing concerns of medical identity theft as more medical facilities move to electronic records during the 79th Annual American Health Information Management Association Convention Exhibit on October 9 in Philadelphia.

The World Privacy Forum, a non profit, non partisan research group, said it has received 20,000 reports of medical identity theft in the past 15 years.

Medical identity theft frequently results in erroneous entries being put into existing medical records, and can involve the creation of fictitious medical records in the victim's name at various medical facilities. This trail of falsified information in medical records can plague victims' medical and financial lives for years.

In Pennsylvania, two men were convicted of health insurance fraud, theft by deception, identity theft and forgery in 2006. Galen Baker stole a coworker's identification to obtain nearly 40 individual prescriptions for Viagra, a drug typically prescribed to treat erectile dysfunction. Daniel Sullivan stole a man's medical identification to pay for more than $140,000 in hospital charges. In other cases, health care employees stole medical records to sell to third parties or file false claims.

The entire health care system needs to be careful in its hiring. Ethical principals need to be taught and enforced for all employees, Harman said.

“As more patients begin maintain their own personal health record, they will become more aware of the fraud,” she said.

Harman suggests the following tips from the World Privacy Forum to prevent theft, these include:

-- Review all “Explanation of Benefits” notices and any other correspondence from insurance providers describing the services that have been received, the provider charges and payment allowances. Report suspicious transactions to your health insurer's special investigations unit.
-- Request a complete list of annual payments your insurance company has made for medical care. Sometimes, thieves change billing address and phone number, which means a patient may not see all of the bills.
-- Get a copy of medical records, in case they're tampered with in the future.
-- Keep track of medical and prescription benefits cards and keep them in a safe place.

Harman, a health information management professional for over 35 years, said those in her field take the issue very seriously.

“We need to take the role as the patient advocate. We need to help them protect their patient information and privacy. There aren’t the same protections in place for medical identify theft as financial identify theft,” she said.

Source: Temple University

Explore further: Hackers infiltrate insurer Anthem, access customer details

Related Stories

Theft of data on 4M patients part of wider problem

November 18, 2011

The theft of a computer containing information on more than 4 million patients of a major Northern California health care provider may be among the largest breaches of health care data in recent years, but it's far from the ...

Technology makes trade secrets a tempting target for theft

June 20, 2013

Becton, Dickinson and Co.'s announcement that it was about to roll out a new, easy-to-use, disposable pen injector called Vystra hardly caused a stir last October. Although an executive for the Franklin Lakes, N.J.-based ...

Identity theft victims face months of hassle

December 14, 2014

As soon as Mark Kim found out his personal information was compromised in a data breach at Target last year, the 36-year-old tech worker signed up for the retailer's free credit monitoring offer so he would be notified if ...

Privacy issues shadow medical apps' claims to improve care

September 2, 2013

Smartphones and tablets are go-to gadgets to count calories, document daily jogs, measure heart rates and record sleep patterns. Some applications now even analyze blood sugar levels, track fertility or monitor moods for ...

Recommended for you

How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

( -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

not rated yet Oct 09, 2007
And this illustrates why having all medical information consolidated in a Web App developed by MS is a baaad idea...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.