Just as it has transformed countless other aspects of our lives, technology is in the process of revolutionizing the way we receive health care. Today, email and telehealth systems give patients unprecedented access to their doctors, and electronic health records allow physicians to collaborate remotely on tricky diagnoses and treatments. While these innovations have improved hospitals’ ability to provide a high-quality patient experience, they introduce a number of serious privacy concerns.
As more of our health information gets digitized, it has become a tempting target for cyber criminals and identity thieves. Last year, the three largest breaches alone could have affected nearly 100 million people, Heath IT Security reported. Plus, in the first half of this year there have already been more than 100 reported medical data breaches, according to the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights.
One reason these breaches are so prevalent is that health care data – in one form or another – is shared between far more organizations than just hospitals, Forbes reported. For example, doctors, labs, pharmacies, insurers and banks may be involved in processing medical payments. What may appear on the surface to be a simple transaction is actually far more complex than we realize. And if just one of those entities has a lapse in security, patient information could be exposed.
Another major driver behind medical breaches is just how valuable patient data can be to ID thieves. Armed with identifying information and details about patients’ medical history, identity thieves can pursue care or obtain prescription drugs under a false name or file fraudulent claims with insurers. As a result, victims might be left with dangerous inaccuracies in their medical files or massive bills for care they never received. Even worse, false diagnoses on a person’s medical record could see them denied future jobs or unqualified for insurance plans, according to Forbes.
Check-up on your doctor's security
With medical data proving so valuable for criminals at such a potentially high cost for consumers, it’s important that patients understand how their information is protected. Next time you visit your doctor’s office, read the privacy policies they have you sign before receiving treatment. If those aren’t clear, feel free to ask how and why your information will be shared. You may not be able to convince the practice to change the way it operates, but understanding where your data goes after you leave the building is an important first step to protecting your identity. Get in the habit of asking this question whenever you visit a medical practitioner, and you’ll come to realize some keep a closer watch over your information than others, which can help inform your future treatment decisions.
Of course, no matter how diligent you may be when it comes to tracking the way your medical information is used, there is hardly anything a consumer can do to prevent a data breach. With that reality in mind, there are several strategies you can use to detect medical identity theft:
- Look closely at your insurance bills: If an ID thief sought treatment under your name, you could end up footing the bill. Read your bills carefully, keeping an eye out for any medical services you didn’t receive.
- Don’t ignore debt collectors: If you receive a call from a debt collector for unfamiliar medical charges, don’t assume it’s a scam. These calls could indicate someone else received treatment using your identity, the Federal Trade Commission warned.
- Regularly review your credit report: Take advantage of the free credit report you can order from each bureau every 12 months, reviewing the document for unanticipated collection notices. To have a trusted partner keep an eye on your accounts credit files when you can’t, consider signing up for a credit monitoring service.
For more information about how credit monitoring companies like Identity Guard can help protect your identity, contact us today.