Stop office embezzlement

October 10, 2011

How to conduct an investigation of staff to get to the bottom of thefts.

Q: I'm a family physician and practice in an urban area. Most of my patients pay their copays in cash. That's become a problem because I suspect one (or more) of my staff members is stealing this cash from time to time. I would like to require all copays be paid by credit card, but given my patient base, that's not an viable option. What's the best way to go about conducting an investigation of my staff to get to the bottom of these apparent thefts?

A: Your problem is not the patients but your office's internal processes. You need to review your cash-handling policies and procedures and audit your cash on hand to the posted account activity on a daily basis. This is a general business process that should be followed by any office that accepts cash, not just one that is suspicious of internal theft. Once the proper procedures are in place at your office, there is little chance for theft or "shrinkage." Generally, your accountant should be able to install a cash-handling and bookkeeping system that would be difficult, if not impossible, to circumvent by a member of your staff. If there is theft in this area, you should also review other areas where staff members might be able to channel practice resources to their own benefit. Again, your accountant would be a good source of information on the areas of weakness in your business structure that might be vulnerable to the diversion of funds.

Answers to readers' questions were provided by A. Michael LaPenna, The LaPenna Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan, and Keith Borglum, Professional Management and Marketing, Santa Rosa, California. Send your practice management questions to medec@advanstar.com