"Today I got a piece of mail from Metacam containing a Visa card for $5. The return address is 'Rewards Center' of Coppell, Texas. In order to activate the card I am to go to 'Blpetrebates.com'. I assume my vet clinic gave (sold?) my address to the Metacam company. That's a new twist. I will not activate the card though."
The same day, Sarah B. sent me a note about the veterinary data harvesting that is now going on.
On Feb. 7, Henry Schein plans to complete a spin-off and merger of its animal health division with Vets First Choice. Together, they will form a business to be called Covetrus.
The new company combines Schein’s veterinary products and practice information software business, which reported $3.5 billion in sales last year and active customers comprising 75 percent of veterinarians in the U.S., with an online pharmacy, prescription management and analytics business.
When the merger was announced last year, the companies said in a joint Securities and Exchange Commission filing that they expected "accelerated revenue growth from the adoption of the Vets First Choice platform across the HSAH [Henry Schein Animal Health] customer base." Vets First Choice software already extracts data from 5,100 practices for its services. When it combines forces with HSAH, Vets First Choice could pluck information from practices on an even greater scale.
At the time of the announcement, a coterie in the profession sent up warning flares about the prospect of one conglomerate amassing veterinary practice data. They worried that allowing client information to be shared with third parties violates the confidentiality of veterinary medical records. They also worried that their practice information might be used by rival clinics, online pharmacies or others to compete against them.
More veterinarians have since joined the chorus of concern as the implications of data mining become real. Some veterinarians are so alarmed by the new license agreements for Schein's AVImark software that they've refused to renew service contracts, resigned to do without technical support or software updates from the company. Others are renewing while actively looking for replacement software with tighter controls on clinic data.
Vets First Choice's Thanksgiving-weekend flub wasn't a singular event. Owners of at least three other hospitals report the company emailed clients without their approval or knowledge. These misfires illustrate what can happen when outside companies have unfettered access to a hospital's hard drive, critics say. They also strike at the heart of the Covetrus strategy of extending Vets First Choice software to the entire Henry Schein Animal Health customer base.
Bottom line: the vet world is increasingly being invaded by big corporate medicine. Their singular goal is to pry more money out of your wallet and into theirs.
Schein / AVImark agreements with vets now include language that says:
Individual Information [pulled from PIMS] that personally identifies clients or their pets … may be exchanged among HSVS [Henry Schein Veterinary Services], its subsidiaries, affiliates and service providers as needed for business purposes.
In short, as soon as you go to a vet you and your pet will lose all privacy.
Your name and your pet's medical records are now just another commodity to be passed around to drug sales reps, discount pharmacy companies, other vets, and perhaps even to scammers.
While this "data transparancy" may benefit some consumers, it may also fracture the business and personal relationship that vets have with their patient-owners.
For example, Schein can now drill down into practice information to identify all dog and cat feline patients that are on a flea preventive, know what they pay for that preventive, and then have Vets First Choice (their own pharmacy) contact those clients directly to make them a better offer.
Not only will the vet lose business, but the vet's patients will quickly discover that they have been billed twice what they should have been!
Did the veterinarians understand (or even know) what they were signing when they signed it? Often, not.
Is what Schein doing legal?
While human patient privacy is protected by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), no federal law protects the privacy of veterinary patients. That said, 32 states require patient-owner consent.
So did Teddy's vet break the law? Probably not. Teddy is in Delaware and Delaware law says that "Veterinary records may be shared when required by law, subpoena, or court order or to protect the health and welfare of individuals or animals. Veterinary medical information may also be shared between veterinarians or facilities for the purpose of diagnosis or treatment of animals or between veterinarians and peace officers, humane society officers, or animal control officers who are acting to protect the welfare of individuals or animals."
But are those records otherwise confidential? The table I found simply says "Not Applicable."