Back in April we wrote about gang members who are getting their girlfriends hired at medical practices. The gang member’s girlfriends are stealing medical records and giving it to their boyfriends to file false tax returns.
Detective Craig Catlin of the North Miami Beach Police Department Gang Unit goes so far as to call it an “epidemic” among the city’s street gangs. “Every gang member is doing this,” Catlin says. “It’s a business to them—they’re doing burglaries and then having other members commit the fraud.”
The practice is very lucrative
Why sling dope on the corner of an apartment building, when you can rent a room at a hotel nearby and have a tax return party? You can make up to $40,000 or $50,000 in one night,” he says.
Now across the country in Oakland, CA, narcotics investigators working an Oakland methamphetamine bust last month found personal patient information on 4,500 patients according to police. The patients may have used the Sutter Health medical centers in the East Bay including Alta Bates Summit in Oakland, Sutter Delta in Antioch or Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley.
In a breach notification letter to patients Sutter Health officials said the information included patients’ names; dates of birth; Social Security numbers; addresses, including ZIP codes; home and work phone numbers; gender; marital status; and their employers’ names.
According to a report over at ModernHealthcare.com there might be a tie-in between stealing patient records and using the information to obtain the materials to manufacture methamphetamine.
Pam Dixon, founder and executive director of the World Privacy Forum, said data analysis her organization is currently performing on records from the Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission and HHS’ Office for Civil Rights has revealed “a really weird pattern” of correlation between medical record breaches, medical identity theft and meth amphetamine trafficking.
“This is not a Mom and Pop crime,” Dixon said. “This is a very sophisticated crime.”
“They’ll go in and by whatever means they can, they will acquire healthcare files and start getting prescriptions for meth amphetamine precursors. They’ll steal people’s identities, a lot of them, and they’ll write prescriptions for that. They would parse out these prescriptions over a long, long period of time and over a lot of people.”
So now organizations have to not only comply with HIPAA regulations, protect against breaches but now they have to fend off organized criminals looking to profit off of stolen health records.
Here are 6 steps that organizations can do to protect electronic patient information:
- Screen job applicants – all job applicants should be properly screened prior to hiring and providing access to patient information. Look for criminal records, frequent job switches or anything else that might be a warning sign.
- Limit access to patient information – employees should only have the minimum access needed to perform their job. A lot of healthcare organizations give everyone full access to electronic health records. By limiting what an employee can get to, limits their ability to potentially access and use the information for criminal activity.
- Audit access to patient information – all access to patient information should be recorded. Every employee should use their own user id and password. All access to patient information should be recorded including who accessed, when they accessed and what records they accessed.
- Review audit logs – auditing of access is needed but organizations have to ensure they are looking at the audit logs. Criminal activity can be happening right under your nose. Reviewing the audit logs may uncover strange or unexpected activity. Examples include: is one employee accessing significantly more patient records than other employees? If employees average accessing 10 patient records per day and one employee is accessing 50 that might be a sign of criminal activity. If records are being accessed after business hours that might be another sign of illegal activity. The key is to review the audit logs and look for unexpected access.
- Security training – all employees should receive security training on how to protect patient information. In that training employees should be made aware that all activity to patient information is being logged and reviewed. Knowing that their actions are being watched might prevent employees from trying to use patient information illegally.
- Limit the use of USB drives – in the past you would need a truck to steal 10,000 patient charts. Now you can easily copy them on a small thumb / USB drive and put them in your pocket. Organizations should look carefully at preventing the use of USB drives to prevent illegal activity.
Free HIPAA Security Training!
All Covered Entities and Business Associates need to train their employees on HIPAA security. We now offer free online HIPAA security training for Covered Entities and Business Associates. Find out more about our free training and send the information to ALL your colleagues and Business Associates.
Now it is easy to train your employees on protecting patient information!