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Is It Ill-Advised For Doctors To Google Their Patients?

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Marissa Bailey (CBS) Marissa Bailey
Marissa Bailey is the weekend anchor of the CBS 2 Chicago morning...
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(CBS) – It’s human nature to want information, especially when picking a new doctor. But how would you feel if your doctor Googled you?

CBS2’s Marissa Bailey explains more about this new, controversial debate happening in the medical community.

A routine orthodontist appointment got a bit awkward when Thursday Bram found out her dentist had looked her up on Google.

Bram owns her own marketing company and, while in the chair, her dentist asked her for professional advice.

“Even though now it’s very commonplace to Google things, I never really expected that my doctor or my dentist may be using it in that way,” Bram said.

Haider Warraich, an internal medicine doctor, says he has Googled patients in the past,  but only  to better advise them on their health and safety.  He agrees there are potential pitfalls.

“My fear is that just because of ease of use this practice may in fact increase,” Warraich says.

Dr. Kathy Neely, chairwoman of Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Ethics Committee, says the issue comes down to trust between physician and patient.

“If you snoop around to get at that information, rather than do it directly, that can really undermine the trust,” she cautions.

But what if the patient is not giving the doctor the whole story?

In one case study, a woman came in for a preventive mastectomy.  A search on Facebook revealed she was already claiming to have breast cancer and was soliciting donations.

The American College of Physicians advises doctors not to Google patients. But  its president, Dr. Molly Cooke, says there might be unusual situations where a need arises to look up a patient.

“I suppose there are instances where it might be necessary to confront a patient about a misrepresentation, but those would be rare situations,” she says.

Dr. Neely says this topic is talked about frequently among physicians: “We’ve urged all of our healthcare providers and our trainees to be very cautious about this and not to cross a line that they’ll come to regret later on.”

Before a medical professional Googles a patient, Dr. Warraich says, they need to ask themselves : How is this going to benefit the patient? If there’s no good answer, then log off.

Dr. Neely says that patients frequently send friend requests to nurses through Facebook, but nurses are encouraged to keep the relationship strictly professional.

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