Six Ways to Protect Your Medical Identity

By Camille Noe Pagán

Smart steps to keep your information safe when you are seeking arthritis care.

Each time you visit a new doctor or hospital, you’re asked to provide personal data, including your Social Security number, address, health insurance information, and sometimes even your credit card number. The expectation – spelled out by federally mandated HIPPA privacy laws that patients must review and sign off on – is that this sensitive information will be safely stored. But new surveys reveal that’s not always the case.

With advances in technology, medical data loss in the United States is occurring at an alarming rate. 

“Accidental data loss is more common than actual theft,” says Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of the Ponemon Institute, a privacy and data protection think tank. “The digitization of medical records is great for patients with conditions like rheumatoid arthritis [RA]; it allows multiple providers to coordinate care. But it also tends to result in larger data leaks than you’d have with paper records.” Any data loss is dangerous, because it increases the odds that unscrupulous individuals, hackers or crime rings can use your medical insurance for themselves or make false medical claims (think Medicare fraud) under your name. That can lead to medical mix-ups, such as blood type mistakes or prescription errors, if their data are stored on your medical chart. It also can cause you to exceed your allotted insurance benefits, which can potentially limit your care, and even put you on the hook for medical bills that aren’t really yours but were submitted in your name.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, red flags for patients include bills for medical services you didn’t receive; a call from a debt collector or a credit report showing you have medical debt you didn’t accrue; or a notice from your health insurance company that you’ve reached the limit on your benefits. Take these steps to reduce your risk of data leaks:
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