Q&A: How to Stop Data Theft, Embezzlement in Your Practice

Pat Little, D.D.S., FAGD, CFE, is a dentist who has reinvented himself as an expert on dental fraud and patient data security. His companies, Dental Risk Concepts and Prosperident, have ferreted out numerous dental practice fraudsters. Here’s what Little had to say on the subjects of data security and practice embezzlement at the Hinman Dental Meeting.

Pat Little, D.D.S., FAGD, CFE, is a dentist who has reinvented himself as an expert on dental fraud and patient data security. His companies, Dental Risk Concepts and Prosperident, have ferreted out numerous dental practice fraudsters. Here’s what Little had to say on the subjects of data security and practice embezzlement at the Hinman Dental Meeting.

What’s the most common way patient data gets stolen?

“Password security. As simple as that is, and as long as we’ve been dealing with passwords, it is amazing how lax we still are in our password security. I would say, first and foremost, make sure you have secure passwords. But what’s amazing is I go into so many dental offices and they’re either not using passwords, or everyone in the office is using the same username and password because it’s more convenient that way. The problem is anybody can then get access to that computer — potentially even a patient.”

What makes dental charts so appealing to identity thieves?

“On the black market right now, a medical chart or a dental chart is selling anywhere from three to 10 times more than a Social Security number. The reason is, in that medical chart is not only a Social Security number, but addresses, birthdays, and everything else that an identity thief needs. But there’s also medical and dental insurance information, which opens up an entire world of insurance fraud. That’s one of our big issues there as well.”

What are some red flags of embezzlement going on in a dental practice?

“The embezzler will intentionally sow dissension so that the embezzler is the only one not causing a problem in the office. That makes the doctor trust the embezzler even more. But really, for most doctors, the number one warning sign is that they’re either getting a lot of [various money-related] complaints or patients complaining about their incorrect statements and billing issues. Typically, most doctors really notice it when they start seeing their cash flow go down.”

If you suspect embezzlement is happening, what’s the next step?

“The key to a successful investigation is to make sure nobody walks into the office to conduct the investigation. It’s essential that this be done in stealth because if the embezzler ever suspects that an investigation is going on, they’ll almost always try to destroy evidence, and we don’t want that. We want an investigation to be conducted fully behind the scenes, and that way the doctor will knows for sure if it’s occurring.”

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