Last week at the Florida MGMA conference, I had the pleasure of presenting to their lively group on a decidedly unpleasant subject: embezzlement and medical identity theft at physician practices.  While internal theft is such a disillusioning topic — embezzlement has frankly become part of far too many of our engagements recently! — presenting ideas for preventing and spotting it to motivated practice administrators does at least have the upside possibility of helping administrators thwart would-be criminals before they get too far with their nefarious intentions.

In fact, I was reminded by a participant that the very best way to stop an embezzler is not to hire him or her in the first place!  When I put up a slide showing article clips and pictures of medical practice employees who’d recently been arrested and charged in FL for stealing from their organizations, one of the attendees raised her hand to say she’d actually interviewed one of them recently for a job.  Thankfully, this administrator had noticed that reference checks were fishy — references were unwilling to discuss the candidate for the most part — until one person simply revealed, ‘check arrest records.’  This was all the clue the savvy administrator needed to dig deeper and find out what she needed to know to avoid hiring someone who’d recently been fired for stealing.

It’s stunning to realize that that the candidate was apparently interviewing for the job while out on bail (and charged with stealing over $1MM over several years from her prior practice), without, of course, admitting this fact.  Kudos to the administrator for persisting when references were reluctant to talk.  There is a common misconception that it is better to say nothing than to tell the truth of why an employee was dismissed — even when not revealing the reason exposes others to potential harm.  (What if the employee had been dismissed for stealing patient identities?  Not alerting other practices to the risk could jeopardize patient information at the next practice that hires her — and even expose the first practice to liability for not fully responding to the reference check.)  If someone refuses to say anything at all about a former employee, at the very least, that should make you more determined to find out if anything untoward is behind the silence.

By far the best way to deal with a problem like an embezzler is to avoid having them in your practice in the first place!  In today’s world of temptation inside medical practices — not just cash and other financial temptations, but medical identity records with high street value  — background checks and other careful hiring practices are essential.

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