from the Arizona Republic – by Mark Pribish –
Health-care organizations have become data-breach targets. Medical-related ID theft accounted for 44 percent of all data breaches in 2013 as reported by the Identity Theft Resource Center. That’s up a whopping 14 percent from 2012’s 30 percent total.
The Federal Trade Commission defines medical-identity theft as the fraudulent acquisition of someone’s personal information — name, Social Security number, health insurance number — for the purpose of illegally obtaining medical services or devices, insurance reimbursements or prescription drugs.
Current and former employees and vendors of companies that have access to protected health information are often an easy resource and “gap in information security” to steal and/or fraudulently use the information.
But disturbing findings from the 2013 Ponemon Institute Survey on Medical Identity Theft brings the sad realization that insiders — defined as family, friends and caregivers — are the main perpetrators of medical-ID theft.
Consumers should review all medical bills, Medicare summary notices, explanation of benefits statements, and regularly review their credit reports (by going to www.annualcreditreport.com) to help protect themselves from medical-ID theft.
Consumers polled in a 2013 Harris Interactive Survey indicated that they would change health-care-related providers as a result of a data breach. The survey suggested that more than 40 percent of consumers would change pharmacies and seek a new doctor or dentist if their data were compromised.
So what can be done? Consumers should ask their health-care provider about the provider’s current information-security policy and how their information is being protected.
Health-care providers can be more open and transparent on their information-security protocol and technology and how they are protecting personal data. But a majority lack effective information-security and governance policies resulting in the erosion of patient privacy and an increase in medical-ID theft. New technologies, including unsecured mobile devices, create opportunities for identity thieves.
Finally, government, health-care providers, insurers and others should intensify proactive consumer education to help all Americans and especially senior citizens (and their family members) better understand the increasing trend of medical-identity fraud and how to reduce the problem.
Mark’s Most Important: Be vigilant and don’t wait until you need medical care to determine if your protected health information has been stolen.
Mark Pribish is vice president and ID-theft practice leader at Merchants Information Solutions Inc., an ID theft-background screening company based in Phoenix.