Is Your Lab at Risk from Patient Identity Theft?

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REMEMBER THE CASE OF THE PHLEBOTOMIST in San Francisco who was discovered reusing butterfly needles? This incident revealed how vulnerable a laboratory—and its public reputation for integrity—is to actions by a rogue or renegade employee.

That was back in 1999. A phlebotomist working for SmithKline Beecham Clinical Laboratories (SBCL) was found to be washing and re- using butterfly needles. (See TDR, April 26, 1999.) The incident generated national headlines. Tracing back to every patient service center where that phlebotomist had worked in previous years, between lab regulators and SBCL, some 15,000 people were offered testing to determine if they might have become infected because of this phlebotomist’s actions.

In a similar fashion, you are about to learn how another phlebotomist, Richard Gibson, employed in the laboratory at Seattle Cancer Care Center, put his employer in the media spotlight when it was discovered he had stolen the identify of a critically-ill cancer patient and opened multiple credit accounts under the patient’s name.

I’ll bet you didn’t hear about this story. Although it was national news when Gibson was convicted last summer as the first individual ever to be charged under HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), few people in the lab industry gave it more than passing interest. That changes with this issue of THE DARK REPORT.

We have been researching patient identity theft as a growing problem that will need a strategic response by labs and pathology group practices. During this research, THE DARK REPORT ferreted out a key fact overlooked in the Gibson case. He was a phlebotomist and committed the crime while employed by a hospital laboratory. This went unnoticed in the lab industry.

I believe the fact that the first person criminally convicted under HIPAA was a phlebotomist changes this story from something of mere passing interest to a high-priority alert for every laboratory and pathology group in the U.S. It’s a major event that warrants the full attention of all laboratories and pathology group practices. To help you prepare your laboratory for this new risk factor, this issue of THE DARK REPORT gives you extensive intelligence and lessons learned from the people actually involved in dealing with the aftermath of this crime of patient identity theft.

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