Medical centers continue to be in the news in connection with their employees using their positions of trust to steal the identities of patients. On March 27, 2014, Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, Jose A. Gonzalez, Special Agent in Charge, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI), and Ric. L. Bradshaw, Sheriff, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, announced that Eltonya Wiley of Lady Lake, Florida pled guilty for her participation in a wide-ranging identity theft scheme.
According to the Press Release:
As part of her guilty plea, Wiley admitted that she made unauthorized use of medical patients’ Social Security numbers in connection with ongoing identity theft. The government alleged, and Wiley agreed that at least 92 patients of Villages Endocopy near The Villages in Central Florida had their identities stolen by virtue of Wiley’s conduct while she was an employee at that medical facility.Ms. Wiley pled guilty to:
To minimize risks of identity theft, providers should only collect the information they need. Generally, to successfully engage in identity theft, the thieves need the patient's social security number. So, providers should evaluate whether they actually need to collect the patient's social security number. In many circumstances, upon closer examination, many providers will find that they do not need the number. If they do need the number, however, then they should take other appropriate steps to only make the number visible on an as needed basis. Providers using electronic medical records, for example, could make only the last four numbers visible to all staff. Similarly, providers using paper records could keep the social security number separate from the regular patient file.
Aside for implementing administrative and technical safeguards, providers should also consider purchasing appropriate insurance. Victims of identity theft are increasingly going to the courts to seek remedies against providers whose employees misused information. In Florida, plaintiffs sued AvMed Health Plans in a class action after the company suffered a data breach. In that case, several of the plaintiffs were able to demonstrate that they were victims of identity theft. That case resulted in a $3 million dollar settlement.
Press Release, U.S. States Attorney's Office, Southern District of Florida, Source of Medical Patient Stolen Identities Pleads Guilty, Mar. 27, 2014, https://www.justice.gov/usao/fls/PressReleases/140327-01.html