Reports of employees stealing from medical practices are on the rise – although it is not entirely a surprise for anyone anymore. However, physicians are invariably shocked by these events mostly because staff members and clinicians work side by side and the practices become more like a family instead of a usual workplace.
Another reason for physician shock could be that many thefts are unplanned. Theft or data losses may also result from a mistake that might go unnoticed for years.
Another reason could be delegating important responsibilities on one person such as in case of medical billing and financial tasks. Often, there are no reviews or verification procedures so it becomes really difficult to catch errors in a timely fashion. Medical billing staff, who make considerably less money than the physician, might be tempted to commit fraud when he sees how easy it is for him to steal money from the office, especially when there is no accountability. The staffer would be definitely enticed to steal anything he/she can get hold of.
Embezzlement often starts small – such as in cases where a staffer in financial trouble “borrows” money with the intention of paying it back.
Findings from a 2009 study on theft and embezzlement from the Medical Group Management Association highlight:
- 45% of thefts involved stealing cash before or after it is recorded on the practice book
- 18% involved disbursements such as forging or altering a check, submitting invoices for fictitious goods, or submitting invoices for personal expenses
- 10% involved stealing petty cash
- 6% involved payroll, including creating a fictitious employee, giving unauthorized bonuses, or inflating pay rates or hours
- 4% involved submitting fictitious or inflated business expenses
However, practices need to implement better system to discourage thieves. Firstly, they need to be aware of employee behavior such as lifestyle that they might not be able to afford on their salary or unwillingness to let someone audit their books.
Secondly, fool-proof systems need to be put in place to make it as difficult as possible for someone to steal without anyone noticing. This can include dividing financial tasks among several individuals and putting more vigilance responsibilities on the office manager.