Why Your Medical Records are more Valuable than Your Credit Card Number

In 2014, Community Health Systems Inc. reported that Chinese hackers stole 4.5 million patient records. In early 2015, hackers compromised 80 million Anthem customers. A study by the Ponemon Institute revealed that 90 percent of healthcare organizations have had at least one data breach in the last two years. This data is far more valuable that credit cards, offering a wealth of opportunities for savvy hackers. Here, you’ll learn about the dangers of medical identity theft.

Medical Records Are Easy to Obtain


Image via Flickr by tedeytan

Hospitals often have weak security systems, opting to spend their funds on new equipment or facilities rather than on IT. The digital records that streamline patient care across providers also make medical files more vulnerable. Only 59 percent of health care IT professionals using laptops, tablets, and smartphones to access patient data encrypt these devices. In 2009, just 20 percent of health care organizations reported criminal cyber-attacks. By 2013, the number doubled.

Stolen Records Have a Long Lifespan

To understand why this type of identity theft is often more serious than others, it helps to have the dangers of medical identity theft explained. Credit card numbers have a very short lifespan. When the issuer detects fraud, it cancels the card. Medical record theft often goes undetected for years. Even when patients or providers do detect trouble, there’s little an individual can do to correct the issue. You can’t cancel a medical record, so its usefulness continues. A stolen medical record goes for about $10, making it 10 to 20 times more valuable than a credit card number. You need to make sure when leaving rehab you talk to one of your treatment center consultants about making sure your records are safe.444

Medical Records Have Many Uses

A criminal with your medical records can use your identity to purchase medical equipment or prescription medications to resell for steep profits. He can combine your medical information with false provider information to file fraudulent insurance claims and pocket the payments. Medical records contain information that credit card files don’t, such as your physical characteristics. Criminals could potentially use this information to create false credentials.

The Dangerous Consequences

The potential consequences of medical record theft go far beyond the financial implications. A criminal using your medical files to obtain health care or get prescriptions will leave a dangerous trail of false information on your record. This could be life-threatening if the wrong blood type or medical history ends up on your record, leading to an incorrect diagnosis. You may also have trouble obtaining medications you genuinely need if your record shows a history of other prescriptions filled by criminals.

How to Protect Yourself

Question your health care provider on its security measures. Find out how it protects your data and who manages patient privacy. Consider moving to a different provider if yours isn’t taking proper steps to ensure your safety. Periodically request a copy of your medical records to make sure the information is current and accurate. Carefully examine all bills and insurance statements you receive to make sure the services listed are correct. If you are a victim of medical identity theft, contact your health care provider, insurance company, and all three credit reporting agencies to alert them to the issue and correct your information.

Medical identity theft is a serious problem that can impact anyone. Push your health care providers to use the best safeguards possible against hackers, and keep a close eye on your records yourself.