Friday, May 07, 2010


This week we shall begin a three part series on a serious form of cyber crime that can affect you and your family. It is medical identity theft.

We have previously discussed identity theft which occurs when personal information is stolen for unlawful purposes. The fraudster will use a false identity (yours) to commit a series of crimes, usually cyber based and financially related. ID theft has in most instances had financial gain as its motive. This has however evolved into a more sinister and damaging aspect where your electronic medical records are either stolen or switched.

Medical records have always being problematic in storage and retrieval due to their voluminous quantity. The advent of ICT has solved this problem in a radical way. Electronic Medical Record (EMR) systems have been developed and they simplified the whole process of updating, preserving and retrieving these records. The unfortunate flip side to this development was that our medical records were now more vulnerable
to theft and manipulation.

Medical identity theft has therefore become a major problem globally and in Kenya. It can cause great physical, psychological and financial harm to its victims. Yet despite its serious risks it is the least known and most poorly documented of all other identity thefts in Kenya.

It occurs when someone uses a patient’s name and sometimes other parts of their identity – such as medical insurance information – without the person’s knowledge or consent. The motive is to obtain or make false claims for medical services or goods.

There are various categories of medical identity theft that are underlined by their motives. The first one involves the use of a patient’s details to steal their insurance cover. The second one involves the creation of fictitious medical records to circumvent statutory requirements like immigration or employment regulations. The third one involves false and erroneous entries in victim medical files that results in the use of wrong prescriptions and where operations are erroneously conducted.

In relation to this we shall discuss the rights that we should demand concerning medical records. These involve the right to access your medical records, the right to ask for amendment of your medical records and the right to have a history of disclosures involving your records.

We shall also outline various ways you can protect your medical records. This involves being aware of medical identity theft, proactively requesting a full copy of your health care files from all providers, guarding your insurance and medical card numbers carefully and educating others about this crime and its various variations. Next week I shall describe the various forms of medical identity theft.

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