Identity theft is a growing concern among practically every industry. Any enterprise handling personal information has to keep an eye out for thieves.
Thus, the nation’s blood banks have a heightened concern. Their donors supply the most sensitive information. “Misplacing” that information opens their donors to the unscrupulous, as well as creating a PR nightmare for blood banks.
In an effort to protect its donors from identity theft, Jackson-based Mississippi Blood Services Inc. (MBS) recently replaced donor Social Security numbers with unique donor I.D. numbers. It sounds simple, but it required a significant amount of time and effort on the part of the MBS.
However, MBS feels the effort was well worth it, and that it has a responsibility to protect those who give a piece of themselves every time they donate. A recent incident involving an out-of-state blood bank drove home that point, and served as a catalyst behind the new system’s implementation.
Last February, LifeBlood, a Memphis-based blood bank, revealed that two of its laptops, used on its mobile blood drives, were missing. LifeBlood sent letters to its donors announcing the lost laptops, computers that held donor information such as names, phone numbers and addresses, ethnicity, marital status and, in some cases, Social Security numbers.
In the hands of thieves, this information would prove a goldmine.
Back in Jackson, MBS, which has more than 309,000 donors in its database, watched this with alarm. It already held the highest level of confidentiality with donor records, but determined that it must do more to protect the identity of its donors.
The most pressing need was to discontinue using donors’ Social Security numbers for identification. Instead, each donor needed to be assigned a unique donor I.D. However, this proved to be a challenge.
In an effort to maintain quality control of blood and blood products, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has regulations in place to guard against record duplication. Thus, blood banks must assign each donor a unique identifying number to ensure that donations are safe.
Social Security numbers fit that bill nicely, and MBS used them for its donor I.D. number. However, using Social Security numbers increases the chances of identity theft. That was the reason the state stopped using Social Security numbers and started using unique I.D. numbers on driver’s licenses several years ago.
It proved a complex task — protecting donors’ identification while still maintaining a safe, FDA-approved collection system.
“The biggest challenge to be faced is probably keeping the creation of duplicate records to a minimum,” says Diana Wyrick, vice president of corporate services at MBS. “This is critical to our quality process.”
Time well spent
With those daunting parameters, the MBS staff set to work.
MBS worked with its software vendor to implement the substitution of donor identification numbers for donor Social Security numbers. This was not a from-scratch effort, as MBS’ software vendor had experience in and knowledge of other systems utilized by blood banks.
Once the tools were in place, MBS established a validation team to test the process before implementing it.
Efforts did not stop there. In addition to new I.D. numbers, the new process calls for donor technicians to not only ask donors their names, but also check addresses, dates of birth and genders to verify they have the correct donor record.
The new system and process was launched in March. It was hard work, but MBS has no regrets.
“The extra time spent in proper donor identification is a small price to pay to eliminate identity theft risk for us and our donors,” says Janet Herman, COO at MBS.
MBS serves nearly 50 Mississippi hospitals. It operates seven drawing stations across the state with distribution hubs in Jackson, Oxford and Greenville In addition, it supplies blood and blood components to hospitals in Arkansas, Alabama and Tennessee.
In addition to its FDA license, MBS is accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks, a founding member of Blood Centers of America Inc., a member of America’s Blood Centers and a member of the South Central Association of Blood Banks.
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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