by Jason T. Hirst
We all have some information that we’d like to keep private, and in our digital age it’s becoming more and more difficult to do. Whether it’s our debts, our investments, our cell phone number, or our home address, people that want to discover them can often do so with just a few minutes and a computer. And this isn’t just limited to hackers – anyone that can enter a search in Google can usually find out more information about us than we feel comfortable with.
Dentists, even more than most other professions, have particular challenges in this arena. Dentists must maintain a license to practice dentistry; they are business owners, employers, and they are exposed to personal liability; they directly serve the public, and they advertise with their personal name. And because you serve the public, you want as much exposure as possible and to have your name come up in searches. All of these factors make it so that personal information – whether you like it or not – is available all over the internet.
Fortunately, with a knowledge of what information is public, there are steps that you can take to reduce the amount of information that is made available and to make it less accessible. Whether you are protecting yourself from creditors searching for assets to seize, preventing identity theft, or avoiding displeased patients who will call you on your cell phone in the middle of the night, having control over who receives what personal information is always a good thing.
As an attorney who works exclusively with dentists, I have seen many of the numerous ways in which personal information finds its way into the public domain. When a dentist is opening a new office, or acquiring an existing one, there is a lot of data that is disclosed to the public in the process, with a lot of information already out there. Some of this is legally required and cannot be avoided, however usually more information is given than is needed, and the effects of those disclosures can be minimized significantly.
Following is a list of some of the sources of that information, with a few tips on how to control its availability.
Dental Licensure. The Texas Board of Dental Examiners makes publicly available a list of all licensed dentists, which is searchable through their website. This list includes not only your license number and date of issuance, but your address, dental school you graduated from, birth year, and a history of disciplinary action. There isn’t a way around this, but use your business address instead of your home address.
NPI Number(s). All HIPAA-covered entities must use an NPI number for HIPAA standard transactions. Most dentists will have a personal (Type 1) NPI number which is tied to their social security number, as well as an organizational (Type 2) NPI number tied to the EIN of the legal entity that they bill under. A quick Google search of “NPI” along with your name will give you a lot of information about yourself. More often than not, this will include your cell phone number and home address. Make sure you update your NPI registrations with your business information, and you may need to request that the databases sync with the new information.
State Business Records. Unless you only do business under your personal legal name, you likely have various filings with the Secretary of State and state tax offices. The more you use your personal name and your personal contact information, the easier it will be to trace things back to you. Use your business contact information, or even better yet, avoid using your name altogether (when possible). And don’t give any more information than is legally required.
Property Records. County offices keep various public records (including deeds, DBAs, and other official documents), which are often searchable over the internet. If any real property, such as your home, is titled in your own name, it will be fairly easy to find your home address – as well as to look up your home’s tax-assessed value and property history. Real estate is an easy target for satisfying a judgment, and often says a lot about your net worth.
Social Media and Advertising. We put a lot of information out there voluntarily, but since much of advertising is now done through social media, you don’t seem to have much choice in the matter. However, if you keep a “personal” profile, which is not open to the public, as a separate account from your “professional” profile, you can have complete control over what information is made public and which is available only to personal acquaintances. Being proactive and making sure you have a professional presence can actually make it less likely that people will discover your personal profile, so being proactive in your advertising of your business and professional identity can actually be a good thing.
Probate. This usually won’t affect you while you are alive, but if your estate plan is done through a simple will, administration of your estate will become a matter of public record. Usually this will include an accounting of all of your assets, as well as names of family members and other terms included in your will. Using a revocable living trust will keep things between you and your designated trustee.
Jason T. Hirst is an attorney with McGregor & Oblad’s Dental Law Group, and handles dental transitions, startups, and commercial leases. Jason also has a special focus on tax, estate planning, and asset protection for dentists. Jason graduated cum laude in 2014 from the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University. Jason can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.