Protect Yourself From Medical Identity Theft
August 1, 2010
Protect Yourself From Medical Identity Theft and Mix-ups at the Doctor’s Office
According to a 2009 study conducted by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), more than 43 million Americans live without health care. This stat, along with other societal factors, helps explain the booming rise in medical identity fraud. Rather than the traditional financial theft, imposters are now using the insurance information of others in order to obtain medical care and services. The medical field is ripe for this kind of identity theft due to the sheer amount of data medical offices, hospitals and insurance companies must process. Not only are patients vulnerable to theft, but simple paperwork errors and mix-ups could potentially be life-threatening. Today more than ever, patients must be vigilant when it comes to their own medical care. Here are our top 5 tips for getting better medical care while also protecting your medical and insurance data from identity thieves:
Get to Know the Staff
Whenever possible, develop a relationship with your caregiver and the caregiver’s staff. Years ago, it was common for a person to see the same doctor, and even develop a personal friendship outside of the doctor-patient relationship. Now, we are less inclined to stick with one doctor. Do your homework before you ever commit to a doctor — gather recommendations, check references, and even arrange for a meeting to learn more about potential caregivers. Once you’ve found a good fit, sticking with a doctor can be beneficial in developing a trusting relationship.
The same holds true for the doctor’s nurses, office managers and other staff. If the staff remembers you, they’ll be more likely to give you a heads-up if they see paperwork or medical claims in your name that aren’t yours. The better you know the staff, the less likely your data can be mixed up with another patient’s, and the less likely someone can try to impersonate you in order to receive medical care or prescriptions.
Ask About Office Policies
Ask any new medical professional and their staff how they safeguard your data. Medical records are almost more sensitive than financial records. Not only do they often contain birth dates, social security numbers and other identifying pieces of information, but your medical and behavioral history should not be available for public consumption. Every doctor, psychiatrist or dentist should have protocols for the handling of patient information, including disposing of records or correspondence in a locked shredding receptacle. Take notice of how the office managers react to this question –a qualified staff will understand that this is a valid question and respect your right to know. Make a mental note if they seem disinterested or confused by the question. That’s probably the level of care they will be giving to your sensitive information.
Keep Track of Bills
Always review any medical bills or insurance statements carefully to make sure you are paying only for services you have received, particularly if you have been hospitalized. Anyone who’s been hospitalized has seen the long list of charges that come with most medical procedures. There could be a test, medicine or even box of tissues on this bill that you didn’t actually receive. These are usually clerical errors, which can be, difficult to remove from your bill without a fight.
Even if you are simply under routine care, make sure to open and review correspondence from doctors or insurance in a timely manner. If you determine that you are being billed for procedures and tests you haven’t received, you may have uncovered a theft of your identity or insurance information and will need to act swiftly to resolve the issue. And to help prevent theft of your identity, save or shred any medical and insurance billing or correspondence. Cut up old insurance cards just as you would destroy old credit cards.
Listen for Clues
Follow up on even casual remarks that are incorrect and determine why they were made. If a nurse or doctor makes a comment like, “We just saw you in September” or “How is your asthma” and neither is applicable or correct, it’s important to determine if these are just innocent errors, record-keeping issues, or clues to identity fraud for medical purposes. Medical professionals see many patients in a day, but always ask questions until you are satisfied you understand what has occurred.
Whether it’s your insurance benefits or your medical treatments, you are the only person who can take responsibility for your health care. Take control and actively protect your medical data.
- Kathleen, AllClear ID Team