Privacy versus transparency

by jerry on June 25, 2011
We get a number of requests from providers to update their information, as I noted last week. Sometimes, we also get requests from providers to remove their profiles entirely, such as this request. I'd like to take a moment to surface our internal musings and let you know our plans in regards to this issue.

For some background, DocSpot's mission is to empower consumers to make better health care decisions, and we believe a big part of that is to increase transparency and navigability of information. Want to know whether a provider has a clean record? Want to search for a provider who is accepting new patients, regardless of which institution he or she works at? Our aim is to bring all of that publicly available information together into one place so people can search using one unified interface, filtering according to their preferences.

We also understand that some providers want to minimize their online presence. There could be many reasons for this. For example, we get a number of requests from mental health providers who would like their information to be hidden; one such provider referenced the unpredictability of their patients as an underlying motivation. Requests like these underscore the tension between transparency (making information accessible) and privacy (hiding information). Probably the easiest way to walk through this issue is to go through a couple different examples:

1) Personal contact information -- we have no intention of publishing personal contact information. Personal contact information is not medically relevant, and therefore falls outside of our mission. We plan on allowing providers to claim their profiles and update and hide their contact information as they wish.

As an aside, it's important to note that we have no means (and no intention) of collecting private information. We work with publicly available data, and in most cases, the personal information that people want removed is from the National Provider Identifier database. Therefore, we are not disclosing any non-public information. So, if you're a provider who's about to write in to remove your contact information from our site, please first update it with the National Provider Identifier database. Even if your information were magically removed from our site, it would re-appear the next time that we re-synchronize with that database.

2) Disciplinary actions -- disciplinary actions are public information usually published by the state's medical licensing board. We can understand a provider's reluctance to have such information highlighted if he or she has had a prior infraction. However, we believe that such records could be medically relevant, and therefore plan on showing that information. It's worthwhile to note that if we start to allow some providers to hide disciplinary actions, then that allowance undermines the confidence in the vast majority of profiles that have clean records.

These are two polar opposites but should illuminate our philosophy on this issue. There are certainly trickier issues such as patient reviews. That discussion, however, will need to wait for another time.

Have thoughts? As always, it would be great to hear from you on our discussion board.