Physicians Can Google Their Patients?

Physicians Can Google Their Patients?

Searching for the right medical professional on Google isn’t anything new, but it’s definitely becoming more of the norm.

In a world driven by the power of the Internet and Social Media, physicians are regularly reminded that patients can and will use tools like Facebook and Twitter, doctor review websites, and mobile health apps to locate his or her ideal healthcare choice.

Have you ever wondered if your doctor or surgeon did the same? What if your MD hit “Search” in order to Google you?

While the doctor to patient search premise seems more like an invasion of privacy than an educational tool, you may be surprised to find out that your doctor has probably searched one of his or her patients on Google before.

The first question that comes to mind is, “Why?”

In 2014, the New York Times published an article by a physician who pondered the same question. He noted that searching a long-term patient on Google to learn more about them may build empathy, or that a search may help prevent someone who has a history of drug abuse from further harming themselves. He confessed that he and most doctors he knew had searched their patients on Google and often found things they felt they shouldn’t have. He cautioned against crossing the line and even recommended that his colleagues refrain from using Google for that purpose.

Does this imply that a Google search by a physician could impact the level of care they give you? Do you feel comfortable that your physician could be making decisions about what you are prescribed or what mode of care you receive due to your search engine results?

A recent article on Google and patient care indicates that doctors feel comfortable, or at least somewhat comfortable, using Google to search their patients in the following scenarios:

  • Duty to warn
  • Evasive responses to questions
  • Improbable claims in personal or family history
  • Discrepancies between verbal and clinical documentation
  • Suspicions regarding physical abuse, substance abuse, or suicide

However, there is no clear distinction from the American Medical Association or other major physician governing body on how to move forward, and what’s right and what’s wrong. Moreover, how this and a myriad of other health interactions in the digital space are not a part of HIPAA. Doctors feel they must tread lightly, and some have even decided they rather not enter the quagmire of the patient digital space.

The pros and cons of refusing to enter a space that is of essence to the marketing population remains. What is clear is the ever-changing healthcare environment as the digital age continues to revolutionize medicine and patient care.

Physicians: Do you feel that you have the right to Google a patient to learn more about them? Patients: Do you feel comfortable that your physician searches you online? Join the conversation by commenting below