There was a story recently in InformationWeek that says that a study conducted by Javelin Strategy & Research, a California-based market research firm indicates that more than 275,000 cases of medical information theft occurred in the US last year. This was a 112% increase over that reported in 2008.
James Van Dyke, president of Javelin Strategy & Research, is quoted in the InformationWeek story as saying, "There's more identity fraud of any kind being generated from exposure to health records which [have] particularly sensitive information."
Furthermore, Mr. Van Dyke says he expects that as electronic health records (EHRs) become more widespread, medical fraud will increase. He also believes that medical providers don't have the skills or in-house capability needed to keep EHRs as secure as they need to be.
Mr. Van Dyke echoes the concerns of several organizations that I blogged about last month.
In addition, Mr. Van Dyke points out that unlike stealing a person's driver's license or credit card, the personal information contained in an EHR (e.g., social security number, medical insurance number, credit card or other payment information, prescriptions, etc.) allow data thieves the opportunity to commit several types of frauds instead of just one. Because of this, data thieves are increasingly targeting medical records and by implication, EHRs.
The study, says InformationWeek, says that once medical information is stolen, it is used fraudulently for an average of 320 days as compared to 81 days for other types of identity theft. The reason why wasn't stated in the story, but I assume that credit card companies and the like have much more sophisticated fraud detection systems in place in comparison to health insurance companies or the government health payers like Medicare or Medicaid. Medicare fraud using stolen identities is common and there has been a historic lack of funds to fight it.
Furthermore, the study found that the average cost of medical information fraud is some $12K, more than double that of other identify theft.
Not having seen the study myself, I can't tell how much of the increase in medical fraud is directly due to an increase in the use of EHRs themselves. While there may be a correlation, I am not convinced of their causation - yet anyway.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.