The Alarming Reality of Document Fraud in Healthcare: A Closer Look

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The Alarming Reality of Document Fraud in Healthcare: A Closer Look

A global imbalance in the supply and demand for medical professionals has contributed to a burgeoning market for fraud and criminal activity. In the Middle East alone, the DataFlow Group has screened since 2013 hundreds of thousands of doctors, nurses and allied healthcare professionals migrating to work in the region, an estimated 3% of whom were found to have used fake or misrepresented academic credentials, professional licenses or work histories in their visa or licensing applications.

Nurses were most likely to misrepresent their backgrounds, with 4.4% of applicants having a negative background screening result, followed by allied healthcare professionals such as a pharmacists and medical technologists, coming in at 3.8%. The most commonly misrepresented information received from nurses and allied healthcare workers was employment history, particularly the tenure, position and type of institution stated in their work experience. Alternatively, physicians were more prone to having negative results related to false academic credentials.

Many of the applicants caught by the DataFlow Group’s screening programs – now run by four of the six GCC countries – acted with the assistance of criminal enterprises. A growing number of highly sophisticated overseas operators now sell bogus diplomas and fake work experience certificates to help unqualified applicants meet the worldwide demand for healthcare professionals.

A common example comes from applicants presenting credentials issued by so-called diploma mills. These unaccredited universities and colleges sell effectively worthless diplomas, often without requiring students to attend classes. However, they are big business nonetheless. A Pakistan-based company employed 2,000 people, operated 370 websites and was accused of selling more than 200,000 fake degrees before being exposed last year. By some estimates, document fraud is a USD 1 billion industry built around providing false or embellished credentials to professionals.

Unqualified employees are a problem for all employers. In healthcare, where ethics, skill and experience hold higher significance, fraud has a greater impact on individuals and society at large. An unqualified healthcare professional can cost lives, and malpractice may also lead to lawsuits and loss of credibility for employers, regulators and governments alike.

Document fraud affects all countries, especially those that rely heavily on imported labour. According to a briefing paper by the Aspen Institute, 75% of physicians and 79% of nurses working in the GCC are foreign nationals. Fortunately for most of the GCC member states, their healthcare regulators now use rigorous screening programs to identify fraudsters and prevent them from practicing. GCC nations have adopted more stringent policies than many of their counterparts in Europe and North America, and have become global leaders in professional integrity screening. Today, they conduct Primary Source Verification (PSV) – which involves directly contacting the applicant’s former academic institution, professional licensing body or employer to verify that the information provided is accurate. They also screen applicants, institutions and employers against databases of known diploma mills, fraudsters and professionals guilty of malpractice.

As a result of the DataFlow Group’s screening programs, more than 10,000 doctors, nurses and allied healthcare professionals have been caught attempting to use misrepresented credentials to gain employment in the GCC. Recognising the threat, other professions such as engineering and accounting are now adopting similar screening plans as a best practice approach.

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