hey docs, the ama is selling your info

My brief blurb about digital age privacy reminded me of something that I discovered recently.

Anyone who has gone through medical training to obtain an MD or a DO has had the experience of receiving an absurd amount of spam related to the medical field. You’ve probably received, something like once a month, a mailer from the AMA (American Medical Association) asking you to renew your AMA membership, even if you aren’t a member of the AMA.

I get these, and they annoy the fuck out of me. It’s bad enough that it’s real life spam delivered to my door and shoved into my house, but don’t try to trick me into “renewing” a membership I never had in the first place. They mostly just fill my recycling bin, and I have to go through the trouble of shredding stuff with sensitive info on it. Fucking mailers.

Finally, I decided to look into how to stop getting these things.

It turns out, if you go through an accredited medical training institution, i.e. to get your MD or DO, your information is placed into a file with the AMA, into a database called the Physician Masterfile. This record includes lots of demographic and biographical information, like oh, training institutions, licensing stuff, etc. It also includes stuff like your home address.

The best bit is that this information is shared with third parties as a default — you have to contact the AMA (in a somewhat difficult to find and convoluted way) in order to opt out and protect your private information.

From the AMA website:

“The types of licensing organizations that use the AMA Physician Masterfile database include hospitals, medical schools, pharmaceutical companies, medical equipment and supply companies, consultants, market researchers, insurance companies, commercial organizations, medical publishers, CME providers, physician recruiters and investment firms and other entities.”

These companies aren’t necessarily vetted, as far as I can tell. That’s also why you can get mailings for scammy medical school loan forgiveness bullshit. I imagine that’s part of what’s covered by “other entities.”

So, if as a medical trainee (or ex-medical trainee), you’ve ever been confused as to why you’re suddenly getting random pharmaceutical companies contacting you, or various institutions trying to sell you CME credits, well. Now you know how they are finding you.

Here’s some more info, if this is relevant to you or if you’re curious, with some links to the “no contact” form and some instructions on how to restrict access to your data. I had them put a “no contact” restriction on my file by contacting them through a “contact us” form on the site, so that’s also an option apparently.