Will your doctor Google you?

Study: Half of doctors surveyed say they use search engines to help them diagnose, treat patients

By Allison McGinley - News Director

ORLANDO, Fla. - A new study shows nearly half of doctors use Google and Yahoo to help them diagnose and treat their patients.

[WEB EXTRA: Doctors Googling patients?]

But what about checking your Facebook page? Or trying to learn more about your profession?

Ever since she got braces, Thursday Bram spends lots of time at her dentist's office, but she certainly wasn't "braced" for what she learned during one appointment.

"My doctor Googled me," said Bram who owns a marketing company and says the dentist confessed to checking her out online and then asked for business advice.

"That felt a little bit awkward for me," said Bram.

"This really opens up a new paradigm into how physicians and patients interact and how physicians really get to know their patients," said Dr. Haider Warraich who admits he's searched online for patient information.

He says he and other doctors he knows usually only do it when patient safety is a concern,

But he says, "Whenever you're in front of a computer, Google is always such an easy tool which is why my fear is that just because of ease of use this practice may in fact increase."

The American College of Physicians advice is plain and simple.

"Do not Google patients," is the rule stated by Dr. Molly Cooke who is president of the organization. Cooke says searches can compromise trust.

"It's hard for me to imagine how I would introduce into a conversation with a patient, you know 'you told me you don't smoke but I saw those pictures on Facebook, with you- that clearly show you smoking," said Cooke.

But what if patients don't give physicians the full story?

This case study references a woman who requested a preventive double mastectomy.  

Doctors didn't think her story added up so they Googled her and found Facebook pages claiming she had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and was soliciting donations.

Doctors decided not to operate.

"I suppose there are instances where it might be necessary to confront a patient about a misrepresentation, but those would be rare situations," said Cooke.

As for Bram, she says she wishes her dentist had just asked her about her business, instead of searching online.

"I never really expected that my, my doctor or my dentist maybe using it in that way," said Bram.

Warraich says before a medical professional Googles a patient they need to ask themselves: how is this going to benefit the patient?

If they don't have a good answer-- log off.

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