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    Should doctors ‘Google’ their patients?

    With the vast of information available online these days, it is only natural to want to search via ‘Google’ a past or current love, or even a potential employer to find out more about them.

    Patients also tend to search the Internet for physician recommendations—or negative comments—before choosing the right doctor for their ailment.

    But do physicians do the same for their patients? More importantly, is that even an acceptable practice?

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    According to Maria Baker, PhD, Daniel George, PhD, and Gordon Kauffman Jr., MD, the authors of a new paper in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, the answer is yes—but only sometimes.

    “(The authors) hope their paper sparks conversation among colleagues and the American Medical Association about the possibility of guidelines for providers in the digital age, one in which most medical students can't remember a world without search engines,” wrote Reuters.

    The authors listed 10 situations when physicians would be justified in Googling their patients, such as suspicion of abuse or concerns of a patient’s suicide risk.

    In a specific example, the authors detailed a real-life experience that they believed Googling a patient was justified: A 26-year-old patient requested a double mastectomy to prevent breast cancer, even though she had not undergone—nor was she interested in—genetic testing to see if she was at risk for the disease. Instead, the patient reported an extensive family history of breast cancer and said she had sought the procedure from other hospitals.

    According to Reuters, “the genetic counselor Googled her and found that this patient ‘was presenting her cancer story at lay conferences, giving newspaper interviews, and blogging about her experience as a cancer survivor. Additionally, the patient was raising funds, perhaps fraudulently, to attend a national cancer conference.

    NEXT: Ophthalmologists chime in

    Rose Schneider Krivich
    Rose is the content specialist for Medical Economics.

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