Is Your Doctor Googling You?

May 13th, 2010 | Sources: WSJ Health Blog

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These days it’s a given that anyone you meet, from prospective employers to next Friday night’s date is probably Googling you. But how would you feel if you knew that practice extended to your psychiatrist?

detectiveIf anecdotal observations by Brian Clinton, Benjamin Silverman and David Brendel are generalizable, the behavior is common.

Writing the Harvard Review of Psychiatry, the psychiatrists say they have not carried out research on the practice, but they admit having carried out such searches themselves. They claim to have witnessed other physicians conducting patient searches and to have spoken with many colleagues who had done likewise.

“Most patients would probably be shocked that their doctor had the time or the interest to conduct a search,” Brendel told the Wall Street Journal Health Blog. “A good number of people would feel like their privacy had been breached, although a number might be happy the doctor was thinking about them outside of the 15-30 minutes they were spending together.”

In some instances, the practice can save a life, such as when a patient blogs about suicide, but in other cases, doctors appear to be motivated by “curiosity, voyeurism and habit.”

In the absence of ethical guidelines on the matter, the psychiatrists recommend that physicians think through why they are conducting a search beforehand, and consider whether the result will interfere with their relationship with that patient. They should consider asking the patient for consent.

“Some people say absolutely it should never be done; it’s a breach of privacy,” Brendel said. “But many say it should be done as a matter of routine. It’s information that is in the public domain, and it may be information that is clinically relevant.”


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