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Mitigating Medical Identity Theft: AHIMA Journal Provides Patient Tools to Secure Health Information
Date:7/8/2008

Healthcare consumers have role to play in preventing, recovering from

health information theft

CHICAGO, July 8 /PRNewswire/ -- Healthcare consumers can take several steps to prevent the theft of their medical identity and follow a "checklist" of recovery steps even if they are victimized by medical identity theft, according to a new practice brief, "Mitigating Medical Identity Theft," published in the July issue of the Journal of AHIMA.

According to the brief, there are at least nine measures consumers can take to prevent and detect the theft of their medical identity, from "sharing personal and health insurance information only with trusted providers," to "questioning 'free' medical services or treatments" where it's unclear what services are being offered and who is paying for them. The practice brief also includes the AHIMA recommendation that patients obtain and maintain "personal health records that include copies of significant health information from each health care provider."

If medical identity theft takes place, the brief recommends other steps. Patients should contact the health information manager or privacy officer at the provider organization or antifraud hotline at the health plan where the theft appears to have occurred. The AHIMA brief's "Medical Identity Theft Response Checklist for Consumers" contains 18 steps consumers can take to help fight medical identity theft. This list also will be available on http://myPHR.com, the Association's Web site for consumer health information.

"Patients have to be aware of how their information is being used," said Chrisann Lemery, Compliance Specialist for WEA Trust Insurance in Wisconsin and one of 18 credentialed health information management professionals who worked on the AHIMA brief. "As a privacy officer I know it can take years to recover from a theft incident. And when someone receives medical treatment as you, your medical record now includes their medical conditions. This means your future treatments will include erroneous information."

"Yes, medical identity theft is a growing problem for the healthcare profession and healthcare consumers; but this practice brief demonstrates health information managers and other healthcare professionals can work with patients to mitigate the impact of medical identity theft and, in some cases, even prevent its occurrence," said the Journal's editor-in-chief Kevin Heubusch.

Elizabeth Curtis, administrative director of medical information at The Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus, also worked on the brief. "With the practical and detailed information patients can work to prevent and detect medical identity theft and help investigate and correct their corrupted records," Curtis said.

Medical identity theft represents 3 percent of all identity theft cases in America, according to a report by the Federal Trade Commission released late last year. However, that small percentage corresponds to almost a quarter of a million medical identity theft victims in a single year. Worse, the World Privacy Forum calls medical identity theft "one of the most difficult identity theft crimes to correct," according to the seven-page Journal practice brief.

The practice brief also illustrates the cascading effect of medical identity theft that often ends with "corrupted health records" that "lead to health risks for the victim of the medical identity theft." It goes on to discuss the nature of medical identity theft victims -- individuals as well as providers and plans -- and the impact of medical identity theft on society.

About AHIMA

The American Health Information Management Association is America's leading health information management professional society whose mission is to "improve healthcare by advancing best practices and standards for health information management." AHIMA serves as the trusted source for HIM education, research and professional credentialing and represents more than 51,000 specially-trained HIM professionals who serve healthcare and the public by managing, analyzing and utilizing data vital for health system management.


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SOURCE American Health Information Management Association
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