May 29, 2024

Psychiatrists prepare for the age of “patient-targeted googling”

New ethical dilemmas
patient information with searches through Facebook or MySpace is presenting
novel ethical dilemmas for psychiatrists, according to an article in the
Harvard Review of Psychiatry. Most psychiatrists have engaged in “patient-targeted
Googling”, say the authors, and find personal
information ranging from criminal records, details of substance use, sexual
activity, finances and suicide plans.

googling” can be useful in a clinical setting, but it is also a temptation to
voyeurism and idle curiosity, the article warns. Google “searches could be
analogous… to driving by a patient’s home or otherwise infringing on a
patient’s privacy in a way that most psychiatrists would view as a boundary

“Most patients
would probably be shocked that their doctor had the time or the interest to
conduct a search like this,” one of the authors, David Brendel, told the Wall
Street Journal
. “A good number of people would feel like their privacy
had been breached.”

However, the internet
is here to stay and avoiding patient-targeted googling altogether is
impossible. “This approach ignores the current reality of clinical practice and
the further intertwining of the Internet and clinical practice that is likely
in the future,” say the authors. “It also violates other important principles
of clinical ethics, such as flexibility in the service of a particular
patient’s best interests at a particular moment.” ~ Harvard
Review of Psychiatry, March-April

Michael Cook