Is it ethical for doctors to Google their patients?

A hot topic in physician practice circles is that of a doctor's online reputation. In particular, we often advise on how to handle the growing prevalence of physician rating and review sites as well as how physicians can create their own digital footprint via social media and blogs.

But in a recent post for the New York Times, Haider Javed Warraich, M.D., a resident at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, turns the tables, exploring the implications of physicians researching their patients online.

"Doctors do 'Google' their patients. In fact, the vast majority of physicians I know have done so," he wrote. "But it surprises me that more physicians don't pause and think about what it means for the patient-doctor relationship."

In the "pro" column, Warraich stated that getting to know more about one's patients can help create rapport and empathy--qualities often found lacking in today's physician-patient relationships. In addition, such research of publicly available information can help uncover cases of fraud, drug use or even child abuse.

Nonetheless, Warraich contended that--with the exception of safety issues--the practice of researching patients online is unethical. "If the only reason a doctor searches online is to gather personal information that patients don't want to share with their physicians, then it is absolutely the wrong thing to do." A better solution, according to the column, is to ask patients relevant personal questions face-to-face.

To learn more:
- read the post