A data breach recently hit the profession.

Full Social Security Numbers will no longer be used to identify students taking optometric board examinations.

The AOA noted that the change follows its “urgent appeal for privacy.”

In an online statement posted Oct. 28, the National Board of Examiners in Optometry announced its decision to discontinue use of registrants' nine-digit SSNs in favor of a new "OE Tracker number system." This number — combined with registrants' last four SSN digits — now serves as the primary identifier for doctors and optometry students. Additionally, the full SSNs of existing registrants were truncated to the last four digits. The NBEO states that the "OE Tracker number system" now employs five identifying parameters (optometrist, first name, last name, last four SSN digits and graduation year) that have a "very low" probability of duplication between two registrants. According to NBEO's TestPoints newsletter, the updates took effect Oct. 20 and were due to "contemporary global concerns about the challenges in protecting personal identifiers within all databases."

The NBOE said on its website: “The National Board remains mindful of concerns within the profession as we continue to work with outside experts to investigate recent complaints regarding the privacy and security of personal information entrusted to us.”

The AOA's Board of Trustees passed a motion Oct. 8 that encouraged optometric testing organizations and state boards of optometry to immediately implement recognized standards for data security in the wake of a wide-ranging data breach affecting optometry. The resolution called for a united effort by the AOA, affiliates and others, asking each to petition optometric organizations to eliminate the use of SSNs as personal identifiers, in favor of unique identifier numbers that are wholly unrelated to SSNs or other sensitive personal information.

"This data breach has impacted doctors and students of optometry across the country, and the AOA is pleased that NBEO has agreed to take this action to alleviate concerns and prevent future identity thefts," says AOA President Dr. Andrea P. Thau. "We will continue to press for action, including federal investigation into the breach, to provide peace of mind for our members and colleagues."

At the direction of the AOA's Board of Trustees, the AOA also drafted a letter to the U.S. Attorney General's Office that calls for further Department of Justice investigation into the identity thefts.

Read more at the AOA

Read more at the NBOE

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