Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Best Interests of Patients at Stake in Google Searching

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Best Interests of Patients at Stake in Google Searching

Article excerpt

SAN ANTONIO--Your patients are likely "Googling" you; is turnabout fair play?

The question is a popular one these days. A quick Internet search reveals numerous articles, editorials, and blog posts on the topic. Some authors focus on potential positive aspects of the practice, while others decry it as unethical.

Attendees at an interactive session on "Profes sionalism and Psychiatry in the Online and Digital age" held at the meeting were similarly divided. One admitted to Googling a patient to verify whether stories the patient told were true or were evidence of grandiosity Others said they could see value in learning information about a patient that they might not otherwise know.

Another knew of a program where routine Googling of patients was expected.

Some said it's best to avoid the temptation altogether--that obtaining information online about a patient can be harmful to the therapeutic relationship.

Most agreed there are important ethical implications to consider.

It will take some time before the ethical--and legal--implications of Googling and other online and digital activities are defined and standards established, but one of the session leaders, Dr. Sandra M. Dejong of Cambridge (Mass.) Health Alliance, recommended an article from the Harvard Review of Psychiatry as an excellent resource for decision making about Googling patients.

In the article, titled "Patient-Targeted Googling: The Ethics of Searching Online for Patient Information," Dr. Brian K. Clinton of McLean Hospital, Belmont, Mass., and his colleagues acknowledged that "the Internet has changed the way that medicine and psychiatry are practiced, as patients and physicians now routinely search online for medical and personal information," and they said they believe that patient-targeted "Googling"--a term they consider to be synonymous with "Internet searching"--is "widespread and deserving of professional and ethical consideration."

While the practice occurs among all types of physicians, it is "especially complicated in a relationship between a patient and a psychiatrist (or other mental health dinician)," they wrote, explaining that what they referred to as patient-targeted Googling, or PTG, has the potential to enhance or interfere with processes inherent in the therapeutic relationship (Ham Rev. …

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