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Q&A: Safeguarding Paper And Electronic Healthcare Data

The recent theft of data on more than 16,000 UCLA healthcare patients taken from a doctor’s home sends a message to healthcare professionals: Patient information — electronic or paper-based — must be protected no matter where it is located. The Healthcare Professionals Sectionspoke with Charla Prillaman, regional director with AAPC Physician Services, an organization providing document solution services for medical practices, to discuss how best to protect electronic and paper-based information.

What kind of healthcare data needs to be guarded most carefully?
All of it. But Notaries are most likely to be involved with information relating to a patient's personal identifying information. Risk of patient identity theft comes with loss of information such as the patient’s name, address, Social Security number or driver’s license number. Any information Notaries need to record from a patient should be treated as critical and guarded.

Are identity thieves more actively targeting healthcare data outside the workplace, and why?
I’ve heard of thieves taking stolen patient information and using it to submit fake billing claims to insurance companies or Medicare for services to those patients that were never provided. When the money for the claim is sent, the thieves pocket it. Because patients are sometimes elderly, or sick, or don’t understand the Medicare process, the patient might not notice something is amiss for a very long time.

What steps should be taken by Notary healthcare professionals to protect information, either on paper or electronically stored, when it is taken outside the workplace? The best practice is that it not be taken offsite at all, but in reality that’s not always possible. Any data on a thumb drive or mobile device should be encrypted, and password access should be required on any company-issued mobile devices—after all haven’t we all heard of anyone losing their smart phone? For Notary journals, the journal should be locked up in a secure location, and the key should be stored elsewhere — don’t leave the key in the lock for easy access. Also don’t leave sensitive information in your locked car; thieves break into cars and steal things. The bottom line is that data security lies in human diligence.

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