Originally written by Stephanie Sisk of the Chicago Daily, February 26th, 2009.
Ohio dentist Donald Lewis Jr. wants to share his pain and have others learn from it. Fifteen years ago, with a full schedule and busy office, Dr. Lewis didn’t realize a sra ff member was stealing from him. It took him three-and-a-half years to recoup the losses and build up his practice again, and it sparked in him a passion to warn others about the ins and outs of scams and schemes in the dental office.
“This has been a IS-year crusade,” Dr. Lewis said, noting that dental schools offer little to no education in business skills, let alone office fraud detection. His Saturday lecture “Doctor, Your Check Bounced Again” offers ways to protect your office from fraud.
Crime insrigated by employees is particularly painful, Dr. Levlis said. Dentists, he said, are trained professionals who want to “do the best job we can” and trust that the staff he or she hires wants to do the same. But sometimes that trust is abused and exploited, and the busy doctor is often blindsided by the scope of the scam and by the betrayal of someone considered a loyal staff member.
A lack of internal controls and employee supervision and oversight are often to blame for office scams, Dr. Lewis said. He urges dentists to have an external, independent audit and lise a forensic accountant not only to make sure revenue and expenses are legitimate, properly recorded and in sync, but also to sniff out discrepancies. “Doctors think of accountants as people to handle their taxes. But (most) accountants aren’t looking at what’s being produced in rhe office , who’s doing collections” or other transactions recorded by staffers. An audit would track those finer details and uncover problems, Dr. Lewis said. Computer fraud is the basic building block in office scams.
There are at least 475 ways computers can be used to manipulate office records, Dr. Lewis said. Altered payroll and receivables records, backdated credit slips and illicit refund checks illustrate just a fraction of computerized records that can be changed to cover theft. Equally alarming is the threat posed by savvy computer hackers.
“Hacking is a huge, huge problem ,” Dr. Lewis said. Installing firewall programs is essential ror an office to protect both employees and patients from identity theft.
While the possibility of an office scam is one most dentists don’t want to think about, Dr. Lewis warns that they “can’t bury their head in the sand.” An undiscovered, long-term scam can lead a dentist to bankruptcy, loss of the practice and reputation, and family break-up. “It’s a very, very horrible time,” he said.