Addressing member concerns about private information shared publicly

Published on March 08, 2016
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Note 3/11/2016: Addenda at bottom of post, with updated information

If you’re like other members who’ve contacted us in the last 24 hours, you’re concerned that veterinarians’ home addresses are being shared on a veterinary search and review site. Publishing this information could put veterinarians at risk, and understandably feels like a violation of privacy. First and foremost, we assure our members that this information was not obtained from AVMA or the AVMA insurance trusts. We’ve been in contact with the American Association of Veterinary State Boards (AAVSB) as well as the site that has posted veterinarians’ information, and the information below is based on these conversations.

The veterinary state boards are subject to the Freedom of Information Act and other federal or state “sunshine” laws as applicable, which determine what information must be available to the public. We’re told that some state boards allow licensed veterinarians to check a box denoting the address is a home address which will not be publicly shared, but this is not uniform. The AAVSB has expressed that they understand the concerns, and they will continue to facilitate discussion among the state boards to communicate how their information is shared; address how they can best protect private information without violating federal or state laws; and effectively communicate what veterinarians can do to best protect their private information. Please note, however, that the public information available from your state board is not the only source of information about you.

We were contacted by the founders of the PetMedicus site, and they informed us that they utilize state and other publicly available data to drive the location search function for their site. They also stated that they had no intention of posting home addresses, and they were not aware that the address lists they obtained might include home addresses. In response to concerns expressed by veterinarians, they informed us that as of today they have removed the street address from all veterinary profiles until home addresses can be distinguished from business addresses. We’ll follow up with them as needed.

Advice to veterinarians at this time:

  • Read the privacy policy of any website to which you are providing personal/private information. A link to the policy is often provided in the footer of the website. If you have questions about the policy, contact the site. If you don’t feel your information will be secure, consider avoiding use of the site.
  • If your veterinary board’s form allows you to denote which address is a home or business address, verify that you have accurately marked the information.
  • When possible, use your business address for your professional license registration.
  • If you do not have a business address to use for your professional license registration, consider using a Post Office box if permitted by the state veterinary board.
  • If you have questions about the information that your state board is required by law to share, please email them directly and allow them time to respond.

The Federal Trade Commission offers valuable resources on protecting your online information. We also have resources on protecting your online reputation available to AVMA members.

ADDENDUM 3/10/2016

During a follow-up conversation today with a founder of the PetMedicus site, we communicated the concerns we’ve heard from veterinarians who are not in clinical practice and who wish to be excluded from the site. Although it is possible to email the site and ask to be removed, it is likely that the next data upload will create a new profile; therefore, the site owners don’t recommend this approach because it would require you to monitor the site and repeat your request for removal.

If you don’t wish to have your full information published on the site, the site owners instruct you to claim your name and set up a profile, then check the “not accepting new patients” box; when this is checked, the only publicly visible portions of your profile will be your name, city, zip code, and whatever you have entered in the open data field titled “Care Philosophy.” You may also use the Care Philosophy field to enter information, such as “I am a board-certified radiologist serving patients at...”. The site owners indicated that they will investigate developing a function that would remove profiles with this designation from the search function. When this occurs, pet owners performing a general search will not be provided with your profile in the search results and your profile (name, city, zip, care philosophy only) will only be displayed if someone searches for your name. We have communicated to them that there are veterinarians who do not want any information at all displayed on the site, and they indicated that they will investigate a solution to that request.

ADDENDUM 3/11/2016

We've heard from a few members that their addresses are still visible, and we've notified Petmedicus. If you are revisiting the site to see if your address is not showing, please refresh your browser's cache to make sure that you're not looking at a cached (saved) version of the page. For computers with Windows, use ctrl + F5; for Mac/Apple products, use Apple + R or command + R; for Linux products, use F5. If your address is still visible after refreshing your browser, please contact Petmedicus at infoatpetmedicus [dot] com.


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