Medical Practice Theft and Embezzlement: Believe It or Not, It Can Happen to You

Thom Schildmeyer May 29th, 2012

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Several factors including medical practice theft and embezzlement can contribute to loss.

In my introductory post, Is Your Practice Bleeding, I called out the unfortunate truth that many practices are losing money—often unbeknownst to them.

There are several factors contributing to loss in practices today, including petty theft, stealing, and embezzlement. Typically, the symptoms are present, with a trail that is relatively easy to follow. However, oftentimes there are not enough controls in place, a lack of supervision, and minimal accountability for the culprits.  This leads to temptations that staff members sometimes can’t resist.

The problem is twofold: practices create the temptation, and staff members choose to do the wrong thing—often due to stress that compromises their values and decision-making. While a practice can’t act on behalf of the staff member, nor reduce the stress in their personal life, it can protect itself, and ultimately the staff member to some degree, by implementing the proper control measures.

First, let’s look at certain characteristics that are indicative of a person who may steal or embezzle. Though not inclusive, experts agree these are some common characteristics:

  • Appears anxious (nervous, stressed, etc.)
  • Works late, comes in on weekends
  • Is always willing to stay and  “close up shop”
  • Is typically a longer-term employee
  • Seems to live above their means (car, house, clothes, jewelry, etc.)
  • Rarely takes vacation
  • Won’t let others help them with their tasks (territorial)
  • Possesses ”no-one can do what I am doing” mentality
  • Does not cross-train employees on their activities
  • Provides minimal reporting (and no one really oversees them)
  • Doesn’t have reports or specific measurements on their activities
  • Handles many  cash activities (opens mail, separates checks, makes deposits, takes deposits to bank, handles receipts, handles petty cash, handles accounts payable, and possibly touches billing to some degree)

Let me emphasize, if an employee resembles these characteristics, it does not mean they are doing anything wrong. However, these are common characteristics of someone who may be involved in stealing or embezzlement activity. 

There are ways to mitigate medical practice theft, starting with controls and visibility, which I’ll cover in my next post. 

Thom Schildmeyer  is co-founder and president of Aesyntix Health, Inc. , which provides revenue cycle management and procurement cycle management (GPO) to physicians.

Watch an archived webinar now on Guarding Your Revenue: How to Prevent and Uncover Embezzlement

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