Doctors Asked to Join Fight Against Fraud

July 15, 2010
Michael Sheehan

Physicians routinely screen patients for a variety of physical ailments, but a recent pilot project is asking doctors to screen patients for evidence of financial fraud and to identify patients who might be at risk.

Doctors routinely screen their patients for a variety of ailments, such as diabetes and hypertension. In a recent pilot project run by Baylor College of Medicine, however, doctors were trained to screen patients for evidence of financial fraud and to identify patients who might be at risk of fraud. The doctors then reported any cases of suspected scams to the Texas State Securities Board.

More than half of the doctors who took part in the project reported having a patient who had been a victim of a financial swindle. In one case, the scammer was convicted of running a $10 million multistate Ponzi scheme and was sentenced to 99 years in prison.

The Investor Protection Trust, a nonprofit group devoted to investor education, provided the financial backing for the study and has offered to finance a nationwide rollout of the program. So far, 30 state securities regulators have signed on, along with several medical groups like the American Academy of Family Physicians.

The mild cognitive impairment that afflicts many elderly patients makes them a lucrative target for flim-flam artists, according to securities regulators. A recent MetLife study estimates that financial fraud costs seniors about $2.6 billion a year. A recent IPT survey also reveals that one out five seniors have been victims of shady financial dealings, including inappropriate investments, overcharging for financial services, and outright fraud. The same survey also showed that only 2 percent of seniors reported that at least one time their healthcare provider asked about how well they handle their finances.

To help doctors identify patients at risk for financial fraud, Baylor researchers have developed a Clinician’s Pocket Guide, which describes the signals that can help a doctor pinpoint those who may be having trouble taking care of their finances.

Doctors, do you ask about patients’ financial matters during office visits? If you have concerns about mild cognitive impairment, how do you proceed? Share your insights with your peers below!