Special Report: Doctors Googling Patients - KFVS12 News & Weather Cape Girardeau, Carbondale, Poplar Bluff

Special Report: Doctors Googling Patients

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(WFIE) -

You may not think twice about Googling for information about a physician, dentist or other medical professional. But what if they were looking you up?

This controversy brewing in the medical community brings up some questions. Is this a violation of privacy? Or is it a way for your doctor to find out more about you to help with your care?

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 dentist had looked me up on Google," Bram said.

Bram, who runs her own marketing company, says while she was in the chair the dentist confessed he checked her out online and asked for business advice.

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

Could your health care provider be looking up information about you? This physician says yes. 

"This really opens up a new paradigm into how physicians and patients interact and how physicians really get to know their patients," says Dr. Haider Warraich.

Dr. Warriach admits he's searched online for patient info. He says he and other doctors he's discussed the issue with usually only do it when patient safety is a concern.  

"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 increase," Warriach says. 

But Dr. Molly Cooke and the American College of Physicians say, "Do not Google patients."

Dr. Cooke says looking up information online can compromise doctor-patient relationships and 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," Cooke says.

But what about if patients don't give physicians the full story? This case study references a woman who requested a preventative double mastectomy. Puzzled doctors didn't think her story added up. They Googled her and found Facebook page claiming she had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and was soliciting donations. Doctors decided not to operate.

Cooke acknowledges there can be extraordinary situations where it's acceptable to look patients up.

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

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. Even though now it's very commonplace to Google things, I never really expected that my doctor or my dentist may be using it in that way," she says.

The experts we spoke with say before a medical professional Googles a patient, they need to ask themselves how is this going to the benefit the patient?

If they don't have a good answer for that, it's time to log off.

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