Document Type

Working Paper

Publication Date



physician privacy


Privacy is threatened by the extent of data collected and sold by consumer data brokers. Physicians, as individual consumers, leave a ‘data trail’ in the offline (e.g. through traditional shopping) and online worlds (e.g. through online purchases and use of social media). Such data could easily and legally be used without a physician’s knowledge or consent to influence prescribing practices or other physician professional behavior. We sought to determine the extent to which such consumer data was available on a sample of more than 3,000 physicians, healthcare faculty and healthcare system staff at one university’s health units. Using just work email addresses for these employees we cheaply and quickly obtained external data on nearly two thirds of employees on demographic characteristics (e.g. income, top 10% national wealth, children at home, married), purchases (e.g. baby products, cooking, sports), behavior (e.g. charitable donor, discount shopper) and interests (e.g. automotive, health and wellness). Consumer data brokers have valuable, cost-effective and detailed information on many healthcare professionals, including data that could be used to segment, target, detail and generally market to physicians in ways that seem under‐appreciated. We call for greater attention to this potential aspect of physician-industry relationships.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Right of privacy, Data protection--Law and legislation, Consumer profiling, Consumer behavior, Data mining, Physicians