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Medical Identity Theft — Who stole my gallbladder?

June 2, 2008
by James Feldbaum
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According to the Federal Trade Commission's 2006 Identity Theft Survey Report, of the 8.3 million Americans who were victims of identity theft in 2005, 3 percent, or 249,000, said someone had obtained medical treatment and services using their personal information.

Unlike financial identity theft, medical identity theft is much more devastating than simply getting stuck for services never received or products never purchased. At a time when we are struggling to implement a unified electronic Personal Health Record (PHR) medical identity theft can be its death knell by potentially recording false entries in a victim’s health records at hospitals, doctors' offices, pharmacies and insurance companies. Changes made to victims' medical files and histories can remain for years and may not ever be corrected, or even discovered, which can have deadly consequences according to Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, a nonprofit privacy-rights organization in Cardiff by the Sea, Calif., in an article in the Dallas Morning News.

Substantive insertions into victims' medical files and histories may go undetected by the patient or providers with tragic consequences. Imagine having your medical record populated with diseases you never had, operations never preformed and even an incorrect allergy history. A victim can essentially be robbed of all of the safety enhancements promised by a PHR and be put at increased risk by the propagation of misinformation. Besides the risk to life-and-limb a patient could discover themselves to be uninsurable or unemployable.

One must assume that as more and more patients subscribe to a PHR the number of identity thefts will climb as well. With 46 million uninsured Americans one can imagine the temptation for a black-market for false medical identity cards. It will be incumbent upon our industry to take every safe-guard to secure vital personal health information if the PHR movement is to take hold.

Life happens too fast for you ever to think about it. If you could just persuade people of this, but they insist on amassing information.

Kurt Vonnegut (1922 - 2007)

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