Local police should also share identity theft information with state and federal authorities and make referrals to the appropriate state and federal agencies when they learn of a medical identity theft complaint. Lastly they can participate in federal and state working groups that deal with health-care fraud.

Individuals should peruse EOB statements from their health insurers to spot unusual charges.

"We've established some programs and initiatives where we're trying to get our licensees to entertain the idea of educating their subscribers on a quick and regular basis," Sneed said. "Explain to them that they are our first line of defense with respect to health-care fraud. That means looking at your explanation of benefits form when it comes in."

Another aspect of prevention is better security for electronic health records, which are beginning to really take hold, Sneed said. "Facilities, associations and insurers have to keep that as an aspect they have to be aware of as they create their electronic health records, practices and procedures, and account for the idea that this is going to open up databases of information that may be vulnerable. There has to be a risk assessment."

The WPF advocates a National Health Information Network that would be established using comprehensive risk assessments that prevent medical identity theft while protecting privacy, and more mechanisms for individuals to correct errors in their medical histories, as well as notification of medical data breaches to consumers.

The prospect for a continuing trend in medical identity theft is good as health-care record-keeping becomes increasingly automated and because it is so difficult to detect, according to Dixon. "It's going to get worse before it gets better because it's really tough to fix."

Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor  |  Justice and Public Safety Editor