Using link analysis to untangle fraud webs
Link analysis has become an important technique for discovering hidden relationships involved in healthcare fraud. FierceHealthPayer:AntiFraud recently spoke to Vincent Boyd Bryant about the value of this tool for payer special investigations units.
A former biometric scientist for the U.S. Department of Defense, Bryant (pictured) has 30 years of experience in law enforcement and intelligence analysis. He's an internationally-experienced investigations and forensics expert who's worked for a leading health insurer on government business fraud and abuse cases.
FierceHealthPayer: AntiFraud: How does interactive link analysis help insurers prevent healthcare fraud? Can you share an example of how the tool works?
Boyd Bryant: Link analysis is most often used to piece together different kinds of data from multiple sources--to identify key players, connections between those players and patterns of behavior frequently missed. It can simplify an understanding of the level of involvement of individuals and criminal organizational hierarchies and can greatly simplify visualizing and communicating the operations of complex criminal enterprises.
One thing criminals do best is hide pots of money in different places. As a small criminal operation becomes successful, it will often expand its revenue streams through associated businesses. Link analysis is about trying to figure out where all those different baskets of revenue may be. Insurers are drowning in a sea of theft. Here's where link analysis becomes beneficial. Once insurers discover a small basket of money lost to a criminal enterprise, then serious research needs to go into finding out who owns the company, who they're associated with, what kinds of business they're doing and if there are claims associated with it.
You may find a clinic, for example, connected to and working near a pharmacy, a medical equipment supplier, a home healthcare services provider and a construction company. Diving into those companies and what they do, you find that they're serving older patients for whom multiple claims from many providers exist. The construction company may be building wheelchair ramps on homes. And you may find that the providers are claiming payment for dead people. Overall, using this tool requires significant curiosity and a willingness to look beyond the obvious.
Any investigation consists of aggregating facts, generating impressions and creating a theory about what happened. Then you work to confirm or disconfirm your theory. It's important to have tools that let you take large masses of facts and visualize them in ways that cue you to look closer.
Let's say you investigate a large medical practice and interview "Doctor Jones." The day after the interview, you learn through link analysis that he transferred $11 million from his primary bank account to the Cayman Islands. And in looking at Dr. Jones' phone records, you see he called six people, each of whom was the head of another individual practice on whose board Dr. Jones sits. Now the investigation expands, since the timing of those phone calls was contemporaneous to the money taking flight.
FHP:AF: Why are tight clusters of similar entities possible indicators of fraud, waste or abuse?
Bryant: When you find a business engaged in dishonest practices and see its different relationships with providers working out of the same building, this gives rise to reasonable suspicion. The case merits a closer look. Examining claims and talking to members served by those companies will give you an indication of how legitimate the operation is.