How many times, if ever, have you googled a patient? – Epilogue

| February 17, 2014

In September of 2012 I asked “How many times, if ever, have you googled a patient?”  I wrote “As a physician/pathologist there are a number of forms of data available to you, specimen requisition information, clinical history, electronic medical records, laboratory tests, radiology studies, operative notes, etc…”

I6a00d8341c5dea53ef01310fd93966970c-800win some cases, the information may not be available (brunt of work-up, radiology, pre-operative visit, etc…) performed outside your institution where these impressions and results may normally be available to you. I shared a personal experience I had with this and mentioned an older cardiologist friend who taught me years ago “Keith, there are two keys to practicing medicine; 1.  Do everything the same way, everytime.  This lowers the likelihood you will miss something. Whether it is a taking a clinical history, physical exam, reading an EKG, reading a chest x-ray (from outside in, or inside out, top-down, down-up), however you choose to do it, do it the same way everytime. And 2. Cheat. Cheat all the time. Meaning get as much information as you possibly can.  MD stands for medical detective.  Get information from as many sources as possible.”

Back in Septemeber of 2012 the feedback on this post I received from pathology informaticists, surgical pathologists, friends and family was overall not very positive.  People had serious concerns with it.  The newspaper in the doctor’s lounge is always open to the Obituary section but googling a patient created to potentially help someone created an issue.  We want to know who we may have known, tried to help, goes to our church or school, served in the Army and read the obituaries about their lives but using Google as a potential source of information while they are still alive was thought to be a positive exercise by only a few.
google-cartoon Early last month there was an article in the New York Times entitled  “When Doctors ‘Google’ Their Patients“, written by Dr. Haider Javed Warraich, an accomplished internal medicine resident and Katherine Swan Ginsburg Fellow in Humanism at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston as well as an author (see: Auras of the Jinn).
As of this writing, there were over 230 comments ranging from “Google, away on us” to “invasion of patient privacy” to “helpful in certain situations to get the right diagnosis” to issues dealing with how both older and younger physicians and patients like condone or refute the ability to google each other, including patients googling their doctors.
There is no an ongoing debate about whether physicians should google their patients, and what happens, if for example, they claim not to smoke and images or content online tell a different story. If you choose to share this information and someone sees this who you are asking to care for you, what should your physician do?  Is your information reliable?  Is your online information reliable?  Is the doctors’ online profile available on 100s of sites reliable for you to make an informed decision?
These are questions and issues that we are going to have to address as a society and culture about access to information, using that information and ensuring the information is accurate and up to date.
Dr. Warraich said before a medical professional Googles a patient, they need to ask themselves: how is this going to benefit the patient? And if they don’t have a good answer for that, log off.
Officially, the American College of Physicians advises health care providers not to Google patients.

 

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Category: Advocacy, Current Affairs, General Healthcare News, Pathology News, Standards and Guidelines, Web/Tech

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