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Identity theft in the medical world

Oct 28, 2011 Matt Roesly

Identity theft is an issue that every industry must deal with. Whether it's to obtain money, services, a job or governmental documents, every agency that processes background screens or identification must deal with the reality of identity criminals. A study from PricewaterhouseCoopers, a financial and business analytics firm, reveals approximately 33 percent of healthcare organizations cited a patient using a false identity to gain services or prescriptions. Furthermore, the report stated such instances could increase with the inclusion of electronic data sharing, such as cloud computing, American Medical News reports. Eugene Kolker, Seattle Children's Hospital chief data officer, informed The Wall Street Journal that cloud computing and the digitization of information has created an incredibly efficient database, the likes of which he's never seen before. However, PwC notes that while the speed of information transfers may be increased by digitization, the security of it is still in question. "The digitization of patient health information is inevitable, and so are the risks of compromising patient privacy," PwC states. "As medicine becomes increasingly personalized through greater access to information mined from new data assets, business opportunities are starting to entice all health sectors to engage on a new data-sharing playground. But there are barriers to gaining admission. Among them is the reality that privacy and security safeguards are not keeping pace with the need to increasingly protect personal information from the bullies." Although the act of using a false identity may seem egregious, president and founder of Ponemon Institute Larry Ponemon told American Medical News approximately half of medical identity theft cases are Robin Hood crimes - meaning, an individual willingly offers their information to someone else who can't afford or cannot obtain medical services with their own identity. This may seem like an act of chivalry, but it is still illegal. Ponemon went on to mention that unwilling identity theft cases many times result from health care practitioners who steal information from victims to help someone they know. This creates an even more complex situation, Ponemon added, as most often one thinks of a hacker as someone outside the industry. Beyond following the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, PwC suggests that health care facilities become vigilant and make it a priority to secure the information of its patients. Certain clinics use biometrics, such as eye scanning and fingerprints, to confirm patient identities, according to AMED.