Identity theft is a serious crime that cost Americans alone over $1.5 billion in 2011. Each year, close to nine million Americans have their identity stolen. As people live increasingly virtual lives by buying items online and storing not only their pictures, but also their vital information electronically, it is projected that instances of identity theft are only going to increase.
What to Do if You Are a Patient
Medical identity theft is also on the rise. Close to two million Americans become victims each year. Reports have shown that medical identity theft is more likely attempted by someone the victim knows. It may be a relative or a friend with access to the victim’s information and uses it to claim medical benefits for themselves. It is also more often an “insider” crime committed by unscrupulous medical personnel with ready access to a patient’s personal as well as medical information.
The information you write on any medical application is vital to your care, so you cannot really withhold information. Assuming the stance of a well-informed patient can at least help mitigate the possibility of becoming the victim of medical theft at the hands of dishonest medical personnel. Inquire how they dispose of the hard copy with your information on it; ask them about the hospital policy on preventing medical identity theft as well as their liability should a victim report a theft. Sometimes, just realizing that a patient comes armed with knowledge would be enough to scare away a potential identity thief.
What to Do if You Are a Medical Professional
Identity theft is considered a serious felony and punishable by three to five years in jail. If the crime is committed by an “insider” (such as a medical professional in the case of medical identity theft), there are additional penalties for abuse of power. It is not something a medical professional who has invested years of study and often a lot of money in their education commits lightly.
Most medical personnel are dedicated professionals who respect their patient’s privacy and guard their medical information. There are a number of small steps they can take to help prevent their patients from becoming victims to medical identity theft. Hard copies with the patient’s information should never be left in the open in an unattended work station for any length of time. Invest in a strong lock for the filing cabinet where these files are eventually kept. Better yet, keep electronic files and relegate the empty filing cabinets to the basement. Convince the hospital administration to purchase a paper shredder and put that where the filing cabinets once stood. This way, when the time comes to discard a patient’s files, it can be easily and securely done.
Much like any treatment protocol designed to help a patient get better, deterring medical identity theft is easier if patients and the medical professionals involved in their care work together.