There are few things in our office that are more important than patient confidentiality. You might ask why that’s important to us, and the obvious answer is “Because it’s important to our patients”, and while that’s absolutely true, the answer that should be the driving force behind every action we take in this regard is medical identity theft.
Medical identity theft is the fastest growing form of identity theft. The faux patient uses another person’s name and perhaps their insurance information to receive surgeries, implants, injectables, or other medical services for which they have no intention of ever paying. In Georgia a woman decided to have Botox injections at her first office visit to a high-end med-spa. After the injections when she was checking out, she realized she had left her credit cards in her car. While the staff was a bit leery, the woman said she completely understood and offered to leave her very expensive purse with them while she went to her car. The patient never returned, the expensive purse had also been stolen, and the practice was out nearly $1000.
Once successful at stealing Botox injections, or other smaller ticket items, this type of thief moves to another practice and they run the same con this time upping the reward by having cosmetic surgery. In California recently, a 30-year-old woman used stolen personal information to open a large line of credit in someone else’s name. She then had breast augmentation and liposuction done, running up charges of over $12,000. She never returned for any post-op care which caused the surgeon to check on the patient’s well being. She completely vanished. None of the information she had provided the practice was valid, and within a few weeks, the stolen identity, and stolen surgery came to light.
These medical identity thieves are not what you would recognize as archetypal criminals. They very often look exactly like our patients, as they are often 30-something year old women, who are bright, attractive, and articulate. They are basically con artists preying on a whole new field.
The systems we’ve implemented may make some patients uneasy, but the things we do are put into place not only to protect our practice, but to protect our patients as well. These are a few of the things we do to fight medical identity theft.
We ask for a credit card when you schedule a consultation. This hopefully makes the thieves nervous and that’s exactly the point. Without the credit card, no consultation.
A driver’s license is requested at consultation check in. We check the driver’s license to the paperwork the patient has completed.
We take pictures of all patients. This gives us another point of comparison later on.
Any credit card payments made without the patient’s signature (paying for fees by phone) require a signed credit card use authorization form. Many patients opt to pay fees by credit card over the phone. It’s convenient, but it’s also ripe for fraud use. Patients must have a signature on file to use this payment option.
If patients refuse any of the identity protection requests, it raises a major red flag. Our entire staff is aware of the things that an identity thief might do to get ‘in’, and does not hesitate to bring their concerns to our administrative staff. One thing that’s a big concern is a patient who HAS to have surgery immediately. Occasionally there are instances when that’s a valid request, but it’s also a tact that medical identity thieves will use to get in and get out before the theft is realized. Please understand that while you may have a truly valid reason for wanting surgery immediately after consultation, it can be a concern as well.
We zealously protect patient information in our office as well. Charts are stored in locked drawers and files, and in locked rooms. No medical or personal information is ever shared with anyone other than the patient without proper written authorization. These aren’t new standards, just ones to which we are even more dedicated. We strive to do everything we possibly can to protect our patients from having any bit of their personal information taken from this office due to our lack of diligence. Protecting our patients’ information is critically important to every member of my staff, and we’re dedicated to doing whatever we can to stop medical identity theft from harming our practice or our patients.