Should docs use Google to uncover patient lies?

Although there is some guidance regarding what information healthcare providers should share via the Internet, medical societies need to catch up on providing recommendations surrounding patient-targeted web searches, according to an announcement from researchers at Penn State College of Medicine.

"Googling a patient can undermine the trust between a patient and his or her provider, but in some cases it might be ethically justified," said Maria J. Baker, associate professor of medicine. "Healthcare providers need guidance on when they should do it and how they should deal with what they learn."

Some experts believe searching for patient information online without a specific reason for doing so may be unethical. However, Baker and colleagues suggested that online research may be an appropriate way for physicians to investigate potentially unreliable or untruthful information given to them. Examples of situations in which Googling a patient may be useful include the following:

  • Duty to re-contact or warn a patient of possible harm
  • Evidence of doctor shopping
  • Suspicions a patient is lying, such as by giving evasive responses to clinical questions; making claims that seem medically improbable; verbal histories that do not match clinical documentation; or other inconsistencies between the patients' statements or behavior and the facts available to the physician
  • Concerns regarding physical or substance abuse
  • Concern of suicide risk

Baker, who has worked as a genetic counselor and medical geneticist provided an example of turning to the Internet to learn more about a patient who claimed to have a history of cancer not reflected in her record. Through her search, she "found evidence of the patient capitalizing on being a cancer victim for a cancer she did not have."

To learn more:
- read the announcement