Reports of employees stealing from a medical practice are nothing new (although they do seem to be on the rise). What’s interesting is that physicians are invariably shocked by these events. One reason is that staffers and clinicians work side by side, often for years, so practices feel more like a family than a formal workplace.
Another reason is that many thefts are unplanned. Rather, they result from a mistake that went unnoticed, said Mark Crane in a blog post on practice embezzlement earlier this year.
Physicians often make the crucial error of putting one person in charge of all medical billing and financial tasks. There are no reviews or verification procedures, so it’s nearly impossible to catch errors in a timely manner. Imagine the temptation for that staffer, who invariably makes considerably less money than the physician. An employee sees a mistake that goes unnoticed and realizes how easy it would be to pull money into his own pocket.
In fact, medical practice thefts run the gamut from office workers pilfering a $25 co-pay to significant as an office manager diverting hundreds of thousands of dollars. Experts note that embezzlement invariably starts small—for example, a staffer in financial trouble “borrows” money with the intention of paying it back.
In his article, Crane mentions the findings from a 2009 study on theft and embezzlement from the Medical Group Management Association. The study found that:
- 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
Crane’s article includes many good suggestions on how to implement systems to discourage thieves. We covered this in an earlier post as well. There are two main things to keep in mind. First, be aware of employee behavior such as a lifestyle that would be difficult to support on their salary and/or an unwillingness to let someone else look at the books. Second, put systems in place to make it as difficult as possible for someone to steal without anyone noticing, including dividing financial tasks among several individuals and putting another staffer, such as the office manager, in an oversight role.
Last Updated on December 10, 2013