At first glance, medical records don’t seem like the most important thing to safeguard. Does it matter if someone finds out you had the flu? From a layman’s perspective, most medical data would appear to be uninteresting and practically useless to non-doctors and insurance companies. That line of thinking is a huge mistake.
While your medical records might hold little personal value, they have tremendous value to the right parties. Data from the World Privacy Forum suggests that theft of medical records is on the rise. What you may not realize is that the criminal parties aren’t simply everyday thugs looking to score a free meal. They are organized syndicates working together to harvest millions from unsuspecting victims.
Enormous amounts of information can be taken from medical records, including detailed patient histories, personal identification, and insurance information. All of this can be and is used to generate illicit revenues, defrauding insurance companies and governments alike.
Like other kinds of identity theft, victims can wind up losing it all. But it gets more serious than a stolen credit card: most medical records include enough information about a patient to apply for loans, open credit cards and fully impersonate individuals. The consequences are far more dire than a big credit bill easily reversed by your bank.
So what can you do to protect yourself?
Own and Protect Your Data
Losing your medical data to a breach or theft is damaging not only because of the obvious financial burdens but because there are no remedies to fix any additions to your records. Someone using your medical insurance or impersonating you could permanently alter your records, which might hurt you down the road.
Combatting this means being proactive. Obtain copies of your medical records whenever you can. Store them somewhere safe so that you have a chance to set the record straight if anything ever does happen.
If you’re storing things online, make sure you’ve got a safe connection when you access your storage. It is highly recommended to use a protective service such as a Virtual Private Network (VPN). You can find more information about such services on Secure Thoughts. The key takeaway is that sophisticated criminals have no problem hacking into public WiFi and breaching any devices you use if you don’t use one.
Physical backups are just as important; a personal medical file kept at home in a safe location is perfect for times when you can’t rely on the digital. While using a filing cabinet is often enough, important records are best stored in a fireproof safe just in case.
Stay Current with Your Insurance
Whether you’re using government provided insurance or private coverage, you should always be aware of what your plan has been paying for and when. Not keeping current with your provider(s) could let crooks run amok with your insurance without your knowledge.
Understand that some providers won’t offer regular updates without your explicit request. Fraudsters can always change your mailing and billing addresses to keep you from receiving bills or alerts, so you need to be proactive.
Providers are just as interested in preventing security breaches as you. It costs said companies millions of dollars annually to combat fraudulent charges, and they’re all too willing to assist you in preventing thefts or losses that may end up hurting their business. Contact a representative to find out what kind of protections you’re offered, if any.
Report Suspicious Activity
If anyone knows whether or not you’ve received treatment, it’s you. The same goes for opening new credit accounts; signing an agreement is something you wouldn’t soon forget. Yet such things aren’t so obvious to the companies subject to the fraud.
If you notice something unusual, such as treatment in your name that you never received, report it right away. In cases regarding insurance, you should contact both your provider and the center that rendered care. Credit fraud should be reported to credit bureaus, banks and government authorities as needed.
Communicate With Doctors
Most medical professionals are trained to keep your records safe, but that doesn’t mean they’re doing the best job in the world. Get to know the professionals dealing with your sensitive information and find out if they’re doing everything they can to protect you.
This also goes hand-in-hand with keeping track of whether or not your records are accurate. Even professionals make mistakes, and you’re more apt to notice inaccuracies than they are. Be sure you read through any documentation they provide when you receive treatment, as not all information is protected under privacy laws.
Always ask questions. If there’s anything you’re unsure about in contracts you sign or with the treatment you’re provided, find out what you can do or if someone can clarify details. Most of us have been taught to simply “sign here,” but that can be very dangerous at times. As threatening as record theft can be, medical malpractice can be just as deadly.
Be Careful What You Share
In a professional environment, your medical data is considered private. No one should have access to it except authorized personnel. But those rules don’t apply to the outside. These laws don’t protect the information you put online or in any public place.
Posts on your social media or in messages to friends can be used to get a deeper insight into your medical history. That information can be used by insurers to raise your premiums or even deny coverage in some cases. At worst, said details could be used by criminals to assist in impersonating you.
Look Out for Number One
In times of increasing organized crime, it only makes sense to watch out for yourself. Insurance companies might appear to be looking out for your best interests, but that’s only to prevent liability to themselves. The only one with a truly vested interest in protecting you (other than your family and friends) is you.
So don’t be afraid to get out there and be a part of your safety. Medical records are just one of many avenues criminals can threaten your livelihood; keep in touch with where all your data ends up and you’ll have nothing to worry about.
If you have additional insight about protecting your medical records, feel free to post in the comments. We could all stand to learn a little more.
About the Author: Cassie is a cybersecurity blogger and internet technology expert. She sincerely hopes that you can find security solutions that will keep you and your identity safe for as long as you live.