3-rx.comCustomer Support
HomeAbout UsFAQContactHelp
News Center
Health Centers
Medical Encyclopedia
Drugs & Medications
Diseases & Conditions
Medical Symptoms
Med. Tests & Exams
Surgery & Procedures
Injuries & Wounds
Diet & Nutrition
Special Topics

\"$alt_text\"');"); } else { echo"\"$alt_text\""; } ?>

Join our Mailing List


You are here : 3-RX.com > Home > Public Health -

Physician guidelines for Googling patients need revisions

Public HealthFeb 02, 15

Physician guidelines for Googling patients need revisions

With the Internet and social media becoming woven into the modern medical practice, Penn State College of Medicine researchers contend that professional medical societies must update or amend their Internet guidelines to address when it is ethical to “Google” a patient. “As time goes on, Googling patients is going to become more and more common, especially with doctors who grew up with the Internet,” says Maria J. Baker, associate professor of medicine. Baker has dealt with the question first hand in her role as a genetic counselor and medical geneticist. In a case that inspired her recent paper in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, a patient consulted her regarding prophylactic mastectomies. The patient’s family history of cancer could not be verified and then a pathology report revealed that a melanoma the patient listed had actually been a non-cancerous, shape-changing mole.

Turning to the Internet, Baker found evidence of the patient capitalizing on being a cancer victim for a cancer she did not have. The question, Baker says, is in what circumstances is it appropriate for a doctor to research a patient using online search engines? “Googling a patient can undermine the trust between a patient and his or her provider, but in some cases it might be ethically justified,” Baker says. “Healthcare providers need guidance on when they should do it and how they should deal with what they learn.”

With regard to future guidelines, Baker and her co-authors suggest 10 situations that may justify patient-targeted Googling:

    Duty to re-contact/warn patient of possible harm
  Evidence of doctor shopping -  visiting different doctors until a desired outcome is acquired.
  Evasive responses to logical clinical questions
  Claims in a patient’s personal or family history that seem improbable
  Discrepancies between a patient’s verbal history and clinical documentation
  Levels of urgency/aggressiveness are not justified by clinical assessment
  Receipt of discrediting information from other reliable health professionals that calls the patient’s story into question
  Inconsistent statements by the patient, or between a patient and their family members
  Suspicions regarding physical and/or substance abuse
  Concerns regarding suicide risk

“Under certain circumstances -  when carefully thought out -  it may be appropriate to Google a patient,” said Baker. “We’re hoping that by offering scenarios that raise important ethical questions about the use of search engine technology, we can initiate a conversation that results in the eventual development of professional guidelines. What are the justifications? How is this information that you might potentially learn going to impact the patient-provider relationship and how are you going to document the information about the patient that you might learn?”

Formal professional guidelines could help healthcare providers navigate this current “Google blind spot,” said Baker. While professional medical groups such as the American Medical Association and the Federation of State Medical Boards provide general guidance on appropriate Internet and social media use, they have yet to address patient-targeted Web searches.

“Any professional medical society’s policy statements on the use of the Internet and social media -  which they should all have -  should undergo revision to help provide guidance to their various health care providers,” Baker says.


Co-authors on this paper are Daniel R. George, assistant professor of medical humanities, and Gordon L. Kauffman, professor and vice chair of surgery, both at Penn State College of Medicine.


Matt Solovey
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


Penn State

  Journal of General Internal Medicine

Print Version
comments powered by Disqus

  Sex and violence may not really sell products
  GPs and the Fit for Work scheme
  Study shows global warming is unlikely to reduce winter deaths
  Academies make recommendations for improving public health
  As death rates drop, nonfatal diseases and injuries take a bigger toll on health globally
  Designing better medical implants
  Single low-magnitude electric pulse successfully fights inflammation
  Total annual hospital costs could be reduced by rapid candidemia identification
  UTMB develops new online tool for nurses
  Online health information - keep it simple!
  Your privacy online: Health information at serious risk of abuse
  Advance Directives Can Benefit Patients, Families, and Health Care System


Home | About Us | FAQ | Contact | Advertising Policy | Privacy Policy | Bookmark Site