Hospitals are generally considered to be a place to seek refuge — a safe haven for both employees and patients alike. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Incidents of medical identity theft are becoming more and more common. Issues involving improper use and disposal of data, hacking, and theft result in not only adverse financial consequences but can also even have negative impacts on healthcare and personal well-being. Identity theft is something that every hospital needs to be aware of and prepared for — these steps can be helpful in preventing medical identity theft and ultimately reducing your hospital’s risk.
Reduce risk associated with personal patient information
The use and storage of patient’s social security numbers is the main source of vulnerability when it comes to identity theft. Data breaches and entry errors can mean that a patient’s information can fall into the wrong hands — compromising the safety of both the individual and the hospital itself. While much of the fraudulent use of patient information comes from stolen or leaked data, verbal or physical forms of sensitive patient information can also end up in the wrong hands. Hospital employees should take care to never discuss patient information in public areas, or with friends and families. In addition, physical forms including patient charts and records (even if they only contain the name of the patient) should be safely used and stored.
Ensure that secure methods are used in storage of patient health information
Every health organization should take necessary measures in order to ensure the safety and security of patient information. An investment in appropriate health IT may be costly up front, but it could end up providing endless savings — both financial, and otherwise — in the long run. Additionally, the use of a unique health safety identifier (UHSI) is a great measure to strengthen information and data security, with positive results extending all the way to the patient.
Avoid storing personal information of patients unless absolutely necessary
While many healthcare providers perceive that patient information — including social security numbers — must be stored for billing and insurance purposes, this simply isn’t the case. The storage of sensitive information (like social security numbers) isn’t always needed, and unnecessarily doing so may pose a risk for the patient and the hospital.
Dispose of patient information responsibly
Just as sensitive information should not be stored unless absolutely necessary, it is also imperative that patient information be disposed of in a responsible manner. Outdated or unused medical information, forms, and billing data should be shred or erased completely when no longer needed.
Assemble and utilize an advisory committee
In any healthcare setting, it is beneficial to have a diverse team of leaders that comes together to regularly review and assess security issues and vulnerabilities. By raising awareness and discussing perceived risks, hospital leaders can be well-informed when it comes to making decisions and implementing efforts to reduce risks and protect sensitive information.
Respond appropriately to issues and concerns
Not only can an advisory committee help prevent against identity theft, but the designated team of experts can be essential in addressing issues promptly and adequately. Utilization of an inventory system that tracks all processes and systems that contributed to the security breach can allow for the hospital to pinpoint the weaknesses and make necessary improvements. Once an issue is discovered, the advisory committee will be better prepared to — while looking at the data inventory — prioritize areas of concern and make adjustments that are needed.
Educate the patients themselves
As many hospitals strive to do the best they possibly can when it comes to securing patient information, actually sharing statistics and suggestions with the patients themselves can further improve the security of that information. Patients should be encouraged to keep their cards and information in a safe place and should be told to take caution when sharing sensitive details. Patient participation is crucial when it comes to combating identity theft and security tips and suggestions can be posted as signs throughout the hospital — or given to the patients in a brochure.
Medical identity theft is increasingly becoming a great threat to the safety of patients and health care providers. While there are many ways that patient information can end up in the wrong hands, there are fortunately many ways that both hospitals and patients can prevent this from happening. By working together and considering these tips, hospital staff members can ensure that the information of their patients can remain as secure as possible.
Joanna Sommer is the Senior Editor for InformedMag and is passionate about security and tech. She has been working in the home safety and security field for 5 years. Joanna loves to travel and enjoys going to hot yoga and Barre classes. She is dedicated to creating articles that both educate and help people make an informed purchasing decision.