When it comes to avoiding identity theft, there are a variety of different types of this crime to be on guard against. For example, people most commonly associate identity theft with credit card fraud, but in other cases, criminals are after one's medical information.
With this in mind, a recently announced product from Microsoft may be a step in the right direction when it comes to fighting the potentially dangerous problem of medical identity theft.
According to the software giant, its HealthVault Community Connect software will allow hospitals more flexibility to share medical records data with patients and referring physicians, as well as other healthcare professionals.
The purpose of this software is primarily motivated by the need to improve healthcare services, giving patients more of an opportunity to register for their own appointments, for example. The company also announced that patient medical data can be stored in its new HealthVault secure online service, with the information accessible to caregivers and select family members as well as the patients.
"By allowing patients and their personal physicians to access electronic copies of their discharge instructions, for example, hospitals can facilitate better health outcomes by getting the relevant information into the hands of the people who need it most," said David Cerino, the general manager of the Microsoft Health Solutions Group.
One reason why this development could help fight medical identity theft is that at this point, patients rarely end up seeing their healthcare-related data in real time, which allows fraud in this area to potentially go undetected and unreported for longer periods of time. After all, people who check their credit reports regularly tend to have a better chance of spotting the warning signs of identity theft faster than those who do not.
This is especially dangerous because instead of having their credit card information compromised, people can end up with mistakes on their medical record and receive improper treatments or prescriptions. In many cases, people commit medical identity theft with an eye on fraudulently obtaining free medical services or in some cases, prescriptions.
When it comes to securing their sensitive personal information, people should exercise the same care with medical documents that they would with credit card statements and other financial data. For example, shredding unneeded documents is especially advisable, as is storing all relevant documents out of plain sight in a secure place.