According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), there were 1,387,615 identity theft reports filed during 2020—more than double the number reported in 2019. And one of the fastest growing categories of fraud is in the area of ‘medical identity theft. This type of identity theft can be just as damaging as when your financial information is stolen—and the repercussions can go on for years. But there are several important steps you can take to better protect your medical privacy.
How can medical identity theft impact you?
Your medical records contain a great deal of sensitive information, including:
- Your Social Security number
- Home address and other contact information
- Personal and family medical history
- Lifestyle factors, such as smoking, alcohol and drug use, sexually transmitted disease risk factors
- Diagnoses and medical opinions
- Lab and diagnostic test results
- Participation in clinical trials
- Genetic test results
- Surgical procedures and outcomes
- Bills and insurance claims
The breach of this information can have a personal, financial, and medical impact. Thieves can use the info to open bank and credit card accounts, take out loans, or get documents like driver’s licenses and passports in your name. Also, if your medical identity is stolen and treatment is received in your name, incorrect information could be added to your records. That could lead to serious treatment errors if you ever need emergency care and aren’t able to answer the doctor’s questions about your health.
Take these steps to protect the privacy of your medical records
- Talk to your doctor and any other healthcare providers or facilities where you receive care about your privacy concerns. Make sure they all comply with HIPAA privacy regulations for health information protection and the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act regarding electronic records.
- Ask your doctors how they share your medical information and with whom. Carefully read any HIPAA privacy statements and release forms before signing them because these forms can vary from provider to provider. You have the right to limit what information can be shared and with whom it can be shared by making specific notations on the forms.
- Check your electronic medical record and insurance claim Explanations of Benefits for accuracy on a regular basis. In cases of stolen medical identity, frequently victims first spot the crime when they see bills or other information about medical care they did not receive. If you do see claims, bills, or information about any care you did not receive, follow up with the provider and insurer by phone and in writing so there’s a record of what you’ve reported. In the letter, outline the specific errors in your record, and request that changes be made. Follow up and ask for a corrected version of the records for your review.
- Check your credit report for debts for medical care you didn’t receive and dispute these charges in writing with all three credit bureaus.
- Protect your insurance card as carefully as you protect your credit cards.
- Actively select the ways that your provider may share private information with you. You may or may not prefer text, email, fax, or voicemail. Make sure that you make your preferences clear. Remember too that unencrypted email is not secure.
- Don’t share specific personal medical information online, for example on message boards or chat rooms for people diagnosed with a certain health problem. If you use health or fitness apps, be sure to check whether the provider tracks the information you store, how it’s used, and whether it can be sold to a third party.
A secure universal medical record that’s monitored and updated by a personal health advisor can be another valuable tool in helping ensure your medical information is protected, accurate, and can be quickly and securely shared with doctors in an emergency.