Back in the days of old country doctors, one doctor treated every ailment and knew everyone in town. If someone walked into the office claiming to be someone else, the doctor would have called their family and asked whether the patient had hit their head or had too much to drink. Today, we rely on our primary care doctor plus specialists, urgent care clinics, medical labs, online medical care, and more. And most of those doctors don’t know you from the next guy. So if someone shows up claiming to be you, chances are that: a) they’ve stolen your medical identity, and b) the doctor is going to take them at their word. And this is serious because medical identity theft can put your medical benefits, your finances, and your health at risk.
Your doctor can help you keep healthy, but you have to take care of your own medical identity. There are several things you can do to protect yourself against medical identity theft:
- Give as little personal information as you can at a doctor’s office or lab. For example, if your Social Security Number (SSN) isn’t your medical ID number, don’t give it out, even if it’s asked for on a form. (And if it is your medical ID number, speak to your insurer. That’s risky, and most companies have switched away from SSNs as ID numbers.)
- Keep your medical ID card in a safe place, and report to your insurer immediately if it is lost or stolen.
- When you get an explanation of benefits (EOB) statement from your insurer, review it to make sure that everything on it is accurate.
- Store EOB statements and other medical records in a secure place like a locked file cabinet, and never throw away or recycle old medical statements. Instead, shred them in a good cross-cut shredder.
- Don’t check online medical records in a public place or over public Wi-Fi networks (including ones in hotels if you’re traveling). If you have to log in while away from home, use your cell phone as a hotspot.
- Don’t click on unexpected emails claiming to be from your medical provider or insurer, as they are likely to be phishing emails aiming to steal your medical or other personal information. If you’re not sure, call your provider or insurer directly.
A lot of staying healthy is about good self-care: exercise, watch what you eat, get enough rest. With good self-care of your medical identity, you can help protect your own health and your future.