As the high risk of medical identity theft continues to threaten consumers' financial and health records, patients should be more proactive in guarding against unauthorized use of their personal information. With the recent string of data breaches in the health care industry, patients are more vulnerable to identity theft that could cause potentially harmful medical errors and denial of medical care.
A study by Kaiser Permanente found nearly 30 million health records were affected by hacking incidents in the last four years, The Associated Press reported. The sensitive information exposed in the data breaches and theft include patient names, addresses and Social Security numbers.
In 2013, data breaches compromising medical information surged to 9 percent of all hacks, from about 5 percent in 2010, according to the AP. With health care data breaches on the rise, consumers should make sure they guard their information from thieves.
Here are three tips to protect medical information:
Comb Over Medical Bills for Suspicious Activity
Rather than assume their health care bills are accurate, patients should evaluate their insurance information and other payments. Lisa Gallagher, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society cybersecurity expert, recommended patients avoid throwing away their explanation of benefits and look at their health records and bills carefully.
"If you see care that wasn't provided to you, or dates and names of providers that don't make sense, go to the provider and report that," Gallagher said.
Confirm the Info of Your Electronic Medical File
When identity thieves steal patient medical information, there is a good chance that the thieves' information may have mixed in with their victims', including health care information that could affect treatment. Patients should request a copy of their electronic health record from their health insurer and determine whether it is accurate or if has been altered in some way, The Chicago Tribune reported. The health records should give an overview of patient care records as well as a list of medications.
Look for Medical Debt Collection Notices
If patients received a debt collection notice from a doctor's office or insurance company they do not recognize, this could be a sign someone may have obtained their personal details for medical identity theft. Consumers impacted by medical identity theft could also have negative marks on their credit report, including late or missing payments for debts they were not unaware of, according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
Patricia Oliver is a fraud operations team leader at CyberScout.