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Doctors have new way to erase personal information from internet after surge in harassment

Doximity on the New York Stock Exchange for its IPO on June 24, 2021.

Source: NYSE

Doximitythe medical site used by more than 80% of American doctors, is now trying to protect its millions of members after an upsurge in harassment that began during the Covid pandemic.

The 13-year-old company launched a free service called DocDefender, which allows you to remove a doctor’s personal contact information from the Internet. The technology scans dozens of the most common websites where a doctor’s information may reside and automatically begins the removal process.

Doximity’s platform, described for years as LinkedIn for doctors, allows healthcare workers to stay up-to-date on medical news, manage paperwork, find referrals and schedule telehealth appointments with the patients. Since the start of the Covid pandemic in 2020, health workers have faced high levels of harassment and violence, largely due to the politicization of mask wearing, social distancing and vaccine requirements .

Doximity says the new feature aims to give doctors peace of mind so they can feel more secure in their personal and professional lives and can focus on providing better care.

Dr Amit Phull, head of medical experience at Doximity, said the feature was a service users were looking for. In March, more than 200 doctors visited Doximity’s headquarters in San Francisco to help the company brainstorm new ideas for its platform. When the executives introduced DocDefender, they received a resounding ovation.

“We’ve already received positive feedback,” Phull told CNBC in an interview. “It was a first for us.”

Two months after the workshop, Doximity conducted a survey of more than 2,000 doctors and found that 85% of them are concerned about whether patients will access their personal information online. This number is higher in some high-stress specialties like physical medicine and rehabilitation, neurology, emergency medicine, and psychiatry.

Jeff Tangney, CEO of Doximity on the New York Stock Exchange for their IPO, June 24, 2021.

Source: NYSE

Phull, who works as an emergency room physician, said he has felt concerned about his safety many times throughout his career. He completed his trauma training in Chicago, where he treated several victims of gang-related violence. Phull said he was often thrust into the middle of complex conflicts that were beyond his control, and he feared people would find him online and retaliate.

“If you find yourself in one of these high-intensity situations and outside of the scope of your practice the conflict persists, that online element can be pretty scary,” he said.

Since the start of the pandemic, many patients have had a shorter fuse.

“I was harassed by patients,” he said. “We’re definitely facing a lot of hostility.”

Phull said that while testing the technology, he found details such as his phone number, relatives, past and current addresses – and even a map of his former home on more than 25 websites. Now that he knows the information is suppressed, Phull said he and his wife feel a little more at ease.

DocDefender users can monitor the removal process directly through the Doximity interface and will receive regular monitoring reports on the status of their online presence. Additional scans will also be performed periodically to identify any new registrations.

The service will be available to all doctors on Doximity starting Wednesday and will expand to nurse practitioners and others over time.

“Possibility to think in the very long term”

In addition to reaching more than 80% of U.S. physicians, Doximity claims it is also used by 50% of nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

The platform verifies members to ensure they are practicing healthcare professionals. Licensed clinicians can use Doximity for free, as the company primarily generates revenue through its recruiting, marketing, and telehealth solutions.

Doximity debuted on the New York Stock Exchange in June 2021, at the height of the tech bull market. Its market capitalization soared to $9.4 billion on its first day of trading, but has since fallen below $4 billion.

CEO Jeff Tangney, who co-founded Doximity in 2010, told CNBC that the company was able to offer DocDefender for free, in part, because of its strong profit margins.

“We just have the opportunity to think very long term and invest in things that doctors really want, and that’s what we’re doing here,” he said.

Dr. Azlan Tariq, a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician and clinical director of a physiatry organization called Medrina, was given early access to DocDefender.

PM&R physicians often care for patients with chronic pain and are responsible for prescribing – and refusing – medications like opioids. About 96% of PM&R physicians reported feeling concerned about their online privacy in Doximity’s May survey.

Tariq said he took steps to try to protect both his online identity and his physical safety, leaving social media sites like Facebook and deleting his personal information elsewhere. He tries not to shop near his clinic to avoid unhappy patients, and he says he’s always aware of his surroundings.

One day, a patient was waiting for Tariq in the parking lot outside his clinic. Although the patient ultimately meant no harm, Tariq said he should expect the worst.

“Just think about going out. How can I get out of this? he said. “Can I get back in the car? Can I open the clinic door and go behind it? This is just normal behavior.”

He said some of his colleagues were seriously considering carrying a gun.

Since testing DocDefender, Tariq said he has already noticed that some of his personal information has been removed online, adding that he feels a little more at ease.

However, DocDefender does not entirely remove the risk of being discovered. Dr. Jasdeep Gill, a psychiatrist, said there are databases for Medicare and Medicaid that list doctors’ information, as well as websites that use their specific provider numbers.

“In the last two weeks, two different people have called my cell phone and asked for care, and I don’t know how they found my cell phone number,” Gill said, commenting that DocDefender is a step in the right way. beware of this. “Trying to understand how they got this information made me a little uncomfortable.”

Gill works with patients, some of whom are incarcerated, struggling with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression and substance abuse. He said he began taking the risks more seriously after a patient made threats against him while he was in residence.

Gill said he paid $20 a month for an information removal service, but that process was “clunky” and “cumbersome.” He called Doximity’s tool “a really easy-to-use service” and sees it as a way for doctors to maintain the boundary between their professional and private lives.

“Our history regarding where we live, who we are married to, what our cell phone numbers are, are things that are personal and should be kept away from the public view,” said Gill. “By creating that separation, it allows us to just do our job and focus on health care instead of worrying about safety.”

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