Reduce the Risk of Embezzlement in your Practice

by Donna Weinstock, President Office Management Solution

Do you have a policy in place to prevent embezzlement in your practice? How about a procedure for handling embezzlement should it occur? You might even ask yourself whether you really need a policy; after all, what are the chances that it could happen to you?

It is hard to imagine that a healthcare practice could be subject to embezzlement, but the truth is, it can happen anywhere and by anyone. No practice is immune from potential stealing or fraudulent behavior. Yes, it could very easily happen to you.

Medical practices, like other businesses need to be cognizant of employee behaviors and protect themselves against embezzlement. There are those who will embezzle right under your nose. The truth is anyone in a practice can find a way to steal.

Most people believe that embezzlement is the taking of money or company funds, but it is more than just stealing funds. In addition to money, it may also include taking of product or property that belongs to the office. Whether an employee takes home a box of staples or a ream of paper, he/she is stealing. When an employee uses your postage meter or stamps for his personal use, he is stealing. Any type of stealing is not acceptable.

Other forms of stealing are the copying of computer software programs, internet use on company time, personal and long distance telephone calls. Stealing of time is another form of cheating. When a staff member cheats on his/her timecard, he is being dishonest.

Despite all your reminders and monitoring, theft and embezzlement may still occur in your office. How can you prevent embezzlement, especially in the small office? Be proactive and take steps to prevent any form of illegal behavior.

As a practice, it is important to have a zero tolerance to theft. Practice embezzlement is a serious offence. Be proactive and take the following steps to prevent any form of illegal behavior:

  1. Have a policy in place and adhere to that policy. This policy needs to be written in your employee handbook and given to every employee. Employees need to know that if they are caught, they will be terminated and prosecuted.
  2. Learn what areas of your office are most at risk for theft and steps you can take to protect your practice. Knowledge is power. It can go a long way in protecting you. The person at your front desk has as much potential to steal as the billing person, collector or even the office manager.
  3. Listen to your instincts. If you think something doesn’t feel right, investigate and dig to see if there is something wrong. Many of us use our “gut instinct” in life and business. Your instincts may be a great start to finding hard evidence of embezzlement.
  4. A couple of the areas to audit for theft are co-pays, account receivables, expense reports, patient complaints and office supplies. Separate duties so one person does not have all the control of the money. By rotating employee positions, encouraging vacations and conducting surprise audits you may lower the potential for embezzlement in your office.

Unethical behavior is costly to a practice, both monetarily and in terms of trust. The employees and patients who see the results of the punishment will have a better understanding of the repercussions of the unethical behavior.

Having systems in place which safeguard the receipt of any money by the practice to ensure that it is correctly deposited into the practice’s account is the key to preventing embezzlement and unprofessional behavior. The financial well being of your office may depend on it.

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