12 OYS: VA hospital wristbands may be exposing vets to identity theft

By: Jerome Collins Email
By: Jerome Collins Email

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Feb. 5, 2014

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW) -- Identity theft is the last thing that should be on your mind during a hospital stay.

A local veteran said he is worried his personal identity may have been compromised during a short stay at Charlie Norwood VA Hospital in Augusta.

News 12 investigated the claim.

The veteran said days after being admitted he noticed his social security number on his hospital wristband. We wanted to know if it was a mistake or a common practice.

"I'm just having a little trouble trying to sleep," said Gerald Ferron.

The Army veteran said he is still recovering after spending four days in a ward at Charlie Norwood after rupturing a blood vessel.

"I was getting good care," said Ferron.

That was until he said the hospital made a careless mistake.

"They put my social security, full social security on my arm band," said Ferron. Even though that information is already embedded in the barcode on the band. He is now worried that he may have been exposed to identify theft.

"You got so many nurses and interns and doctors and people that are visiting," said Ferron. The hospital would not confirm or deny the practice of using social security numbers on patient wristbands.

During our investigation we uncovered a letter from 2012 sent from a U.S. senator to the Department of Veterans Affairs which suggests this is not an isolated occurrence.

"The VA has too much information available to too many prying eyes... they should not put your financial health at risk when they are treating you for your health condition," Congressman John Barrow said.

Which is why Ferron is concerned.

The National Center for Ethics in Health Care said, "using SSN's raises concerns about patient privacy and confidentiality, particularly because SSN's can provide easy access to all sorts of information about individuals, opening the door to potentially significant harms."

"What if I hadn't paid attention to it and I threw it in the trash," said Ferron. We called several other hospitals in the area and with the exception of Charlie Norwood, they do not use social security numbers on patient wristbands.

Meanwhile according to a document from the Veterans Health Administration, removing social security numbers from wristbands was at the bottom of its list in 2013.

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