Identity Theft Comes to Healthcare

December 17, 2009

Rising unemployment is partially to blame for an increase in medical identity theft, say some law enforcement officials, but far more common however, is theft of medical records and using them either to obtain medical treatment or to file fraudulent claims.

Rising unemployment is partially to blame for an increase in medical identity theft, say some law enforcement officials, as uninsured patients piggyback on the coverage of a friend or relative. Far more common however, is stealing medical records and using them either to obtain medical treatment or to file fraudulent claims. In one case, a Florida clinic worker gave personal medical data on 1,100 Medicare patients to a relative, who then filed almost $3 million in bogus claims.

The problem goes beyond money, however, according to healthcare industry observers. When a patient uses someone else’s identity, medical records get skewed, which can lead to a host of problems. A corrupted medical file could contain a medical history, blood type, or drug allergies that are different from that of the person the file actually belongs to. The results caused by this misinformation could be deadly. A consumer whose identity is used by another person could also face hitting lifetime coverage limits or be judged uninsurable if he/she tries to change policies.

Because medical identity theft is the fastest growing form of identity theft, it’s causing some healthcare experts to question the current push toward electronic medical records. EMRs, they say, will make medical records more accessible and make deterring and detecting medical identity theft more difficult.