Hood GA. Residents Must Protect Their Private Information. JAMA. 1998;279(17):1410B. doi:10.1001/jama.279.17.1410
Prepared by Ashish Bajaj, Department of Resident Physician Services,
American Medical Association.
During training, residents are taught about some types of fraud that
physicians encounter; unfortunately, many are not taught to protect themselves
from certain types of fraud such as the theft of personal information and
violation of privacy. While everyone needs to secure themselves against this,
residents should be particularly careful for 3 important reasons: the invasion
of their privacy may compromise patients' privacy, busy schedules may prevent
them from meticulously protecting sensitive personal information, and criminals
may perceive all physicians to be wealthy and consequently target them. There
are a number of steps residents can take to protect themselves against these
types of fraud. Although no methods are foolproof, taking these steps can
limit the risk to residents and their patients.
Telephones. Whenever you use a telephone to
discuss or transmit information about yourself or patients, be sure to use
the most secure telephone available. Many cordless and cellular phones are
not secure from eavesdropping. Avoid cordless and cellular phones whenever
discussing patients or when you are conveying personal information such as
credit card numbers, Social Security numbers (SSNs), or other identification.
If you must use a cordless or cellular phone, use one with digital transmission
and built-in encryption technology.
Internet. Similarly, when sending or viewing
sensitive information or making transactions over the Internet, make sure
your information is encrypted. Many Internet browsers now include encryption
security automatically, but it is important to make sure that your browser
has this technology. As the electronic transmission of medical records and
images increases, everyone must become increasingly careful about protecting
patient confidentiality. When using the Internet for personal financial transactions
such as purchases, it is generally safer to call on a secure phone to place
an order or make a transaction.
Social Security Numbers. Do not give out your
SSN to anyone unless it is absolutely necessary. Criminals can use it to create
false identification with which they can obtain credit cards, open new bank
accounts, and access your current bank account. If your hospital requires
you to include your SSN with your signature on medical documentation, ask
the hospital to consider devising another identification system. If your SSN
is used on personal identification or by your financial institution as an
account number, ask for an alternative number. If the issuing body does not
offer this option, insist that it consider a new system. In particular, avoid
giving your SSN out over the phone or writing it on a check. Many people handle
checks before they are canceled and filed away.
It is also imperative to buy a personal shredder for your home and office.
They are usually available at local office supply stores. Never discard intact
documents with patient or personal information in the garbage because thieves
regularly search the trash for such information.
If you feel that any of your private financial information has been
stolen, review your credit report immediately. You are entitled to receive
at least 1 free copy of your credit report each year. Look for erroneous information,
possible illegal activity, or unauthorized credit checks. As a general rule,
the earlier you report fraudulent activity, the lower your liability. If you
have a joint credit card or bank account with someone, encourage that person
to review his or her credit report as well since credit reports are specific
to individuals. The 3 credit reporting agencies to contact are Equifax (800)
685-1111, Experian (800) 682-7654, and TransUnion (800) 916-8800. It is important
to request copies from all 3 agencies because each reports different information.
The reports usually provide consumers with guidance on how to correct errors
or improper information on the reports. Correcting this information before
it causes problems will reduce stress and save time. As in medicine, prevention
is much easier to achieve than a cure.