Is your doctor 'Googling' you?

Published On: Mar 17 2014 09:41:38 AM EDT   Updated On: Mar 18 2014 06:45:00 AM EDT

Ever since she got braces, Thursday Bram spends lots of time at her dentist's office, but she certainly wasn't prepared for what she learned during one appointment.

"My dentist had looked me up on Google," she said.

Bram, who runs her own marketing company, says while she was in the chair, the dentist confessed he checked her out online, and asked for business advice.

"That felt a little bit awkward for me," she added.

Could your health care provider be looking up information about you?  Dr. Haider Warraich, a physician, says yes.

"This really opens up a new paradigm into how physicians and patients interact and how physicians really get to know their patients," he said.

Warraich admits he's searched online for patient info.  He says he, and other doctors he's discussed the issue with, usually only do it when patient safety is a concern.  But, he has concerns.

"Whenever you're in front of a computer, Google is always such an easy tool. Which is why my fear is that just because of ease of use this practice may in fact increase," he said.

But the American College of Physicians advises doctors not to Google patients.

Dr. Molly Cooke, president of the American College of Physicians says looking up information online can compromise doctor-patient relationships and trust.

Cooke said, "It's hard for me to imagine how I would introduce into a conversation with a patient, you know, 'You told me you don't smoke but I saw those pictures on Facebook, with you that clearly show you smoking.'"

But what about if patients don't give physicians the full story?  One case case study references a woman who requested a preventive double mastectomy.  Puzzled doctors didn't think her story added up.  They Googled her and found Facebook pages claiming she had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and was soliciting donations. Doctors decided not to operate.  

Cooke acknowledges there can be extraordinary situations where it's acceptable to look patients up

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

As for Bram, she says she wishes her dentist had just asked her about her business, instead of searching online.

"I never really expected that, even though now its very common place to Google things, I never really expected that my, my doctor or my dentist maybe using it in that way," she said.

Warraich says before a medical professional Googles a patient they need to ask themselves: how is this going to benefit the patient?  And if they don't have a good answer for that, she says log off.


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