Security officials for one of the nations largest private payers said that widespread adoption of electronic health records could speed incidents of medical identity theft if security protocols are overlooked or sub par.
It could be a double-edged sword, James Quiggle, director of communications for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, said at a news conference in Washington sponsored by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.
Quiggle warned that EHRs and other high-tech means of record-keeping could actually hinder anti-fraud efforts because a patients most sensitive data would be able to move farther and faster than if it was all stored on paper. Adding to the problem is the disparate level of security throughout the provider community and increasingly savvy thieves, he said.
Its a very uneven health system right now, Quiggle said.
Byron Hollis, managing director of the Blues' national anti-fraud department, said that a balance needs to be struck between having enough security to protect consumers vs. having too many safeguards, which could take away some of the shine of EHRs. The Blues have worked at the federal level to help shape security protocols, though the issue has provided vigorous and ongoing debate, he said.
More broadly, healthcare fraud, which includes medical identity theft, can cost both public and private payers up to $100 billion every year, Hollis said. The Federal Trade Commission estimates that about 3% of the 8.3 million identity theft victims in 2005 had their personal health information falsely used to obtain medical treatment and services. And medical information theft has become the fastest growing form of fraud in the U.S.
Last year, the Blues anti-fraud investigations saved the company more than $249 million, netting a return of $5 for every $1 it invested in anti-fraud efforts, Hollis said. Nationally, the company opened more than 13,400 cases.
The panel urged the general public to take more stringent measures to safeguard their own personal information, including treating their insurance cards with the same care they would a credit card.