DoximityProfilePhysicians across the country got emails from their hospital & clinic administrators over the past few weeks telling them how important it was that they claim their Doximity physician profile. Those pleas come courtesy of Doximity’s partnership with US News and their annual Best Hospital lists.

Earlier today we wrote a piece that looked into this some more, titled, “How Doximity backdoored into physician registrations without targeting physicians“.

As many physicians are now aware, part of the 2015 ratings will be based on the results of surveys sent to a pool of physicians selected from Doximity users. So now that you’ve gone and registered for Doximity, one question you may be asking is what happens to all of the information you’ve just turned over?

Doximity has done a nice job of putting together an understandable and direct privacy policy, one that I’m sure the vast majority of physicians registering in the past few weeks didn’t see. In it, Doximity specifies that they “do not sell, rent, or otherwise provide your private information to third parties for marketing or other purposes.”

That doesn’t however apply to publicly available information. Doximity users will periodically notice sponsored content throughout the platform.

When you choose to engage with a sponsored program, such as engaging with a commercial client’s sponsored news alert, we may provide our commercial clients with your identifiable information and information about the type of engagement (e.g., whether you viewed, interacted with or requested information about such promotional content). We will only share your identifiable information with clients who have agreed to use such information solely for authorized purposes.

To confirm, we will not provide your personal contact information such as email, phone, fax, or postal address as part of our Services.

In other words, if you click on one of those links, Doximity does share your identity and publicly available information with the sponsor. We were assured by Doximity that they do not share your contact information or any other non-public information that you may provide when you register. That being said, these public profiles centralize a lot of information about individual physicians – here’s mine.

We learned from an interview with Epocrates Senior VP Heather Gervais, pharmaceutical companies have been enthusiastic in adopting “big data” marketing strategies. In particular, they track every single interaction they have with individual physicians. That way, they can work on making sure that their new diabetes drug gets in front of every endocrinologist in the southeast three times next quarter (for example).

One big unknown is what happens to your information in the event that Doximity is sold. As their privacy policy states,

We may also disclose your personal and other information you provide, to another third party as part of a reorganization or a sale of substantially all of the business of Doximity. Any third party to which we transfer or sell Doximity’s assets will have the right to continue to use the personal and other information that you provide to us.

It’s not clear to me that the restrictions on use of personal information would apply to a company that acquires Doximity. Its worth noting that, according to the privacy policy, you can delete your account and they will delete any personal information you’ve provided from their databases.

To be clear, this article is not meant to expose some more insidious use of your information that Doximity has planned; their privacy policy is pretty clear. I actually like the platform that Doximity has built for physician networking and some of the more practical tools, like HIPAA compliant fax or proxy access for medical journals, that they’ve integrated.

Rather, I’m a proponent of being “app literate”. In other words, we as physicians need to pay attention to the hidden costs of the free apps, websites, and platforms we use. Similarly, if we recommend apps and websites to our patients, we should take the time to understand the hidden costs there too.