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Trisha Torrey

Is Your Doctor Googling You?

By March 26, 2010

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Turn about is fair play, right?

I've often recommended to you that you research a doctor before you make the choice to commit your healthcare to him or her. We've looked at doctor's ratings sites (caution!) and how to find a doctor's credentials (a must!). I've even explained how to pick up malpractice information if it's available....

But until I saw this note from the Wall Street Journal, I didn't think about the tables being turned!

Yes, it seems that sometimes doctors google their patients, too. The WSJ revealed the results of a study that shows that many doctors may be googling their patients. This particular report was issued by psychiatrists, and mostly focuses on mental health professionals, but it certainly doesn't mean psychiatrists are the only doctors researching their patients online.

This on the heels of a question about privacy that recently popped up on Twitter. HIPAA laws cover patients' medical records that are generated by medical professionals. But they don't cover medical information generated by us patients.... so the questions are...

Are we patients, who post information about our health online, violating our own privacy?

And now the question seems to be...

Are our doctors finding that private information?

And then we have to ask...

Is that problematic? Is it OK with you if your doctor reads what you've said? Will you even accept a friend request from your doctor on Facebook?

The conclusions and action steps going forward seem pretty simple -- never post anything online that you don't want your doctor (or your parents or your kids or your employer or anyone else) to see. If you feel as if you need to share certain kinds of information in online support groups or chat rooms, then be aware of these rules for keeping yourself safe.

Yes - what's good for the patient-goose is just fine for the physician-gander. At an extreme, your doctor could find information about you that would make him or her decide to no longer be your doctor. In the perfect world, you have a good enough relationship with your physicians that there's no problem if he or she looks underneath your google covers.

But few of us really live in the perfect world.


Learn how to stay safe in online support groups and chat rooms.

Staying safe online from the About.com Guide to Personal Web Pages

Online Safety from the Guide to Depression

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Learn more or join the conversation!


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Photo Ljupco Smokovski - Fotolia.com

March 26, 2010 at 11:17 am
(1) Robin says:

Not only did my doctor Google me but confronted me about it. I really assumed she’d be ticked that I worked in the field as a health educator. Instead she said she did it because she was impressed with my questions and grasp of the situation. In the end she had more respect for me when she knew I had a reason to have the knowledge as opposed to just having the knowledge. I don’t know that that part is fair, because, hey, knowledge is knowledge! But overall it wound up being a good thing!

March 26, 2010 at 11:38 am
(2) Anne says:

I am SURE my doctor doesn’t have time for such an activity :) – though he is interested in his patients in a really good way and that’s one reason why I stick with him.

I am wondering why Robin’s doctor doesn’t just ask HER more about herself, if she finds Robin’s questions so well-formed. I think that’s what so many of us are screaming about – we want more interaction/relationship with our docs.

March 27, 2010 at 11:03 am
(3) Jamie says:

Not only is my doc unlikely to have the time, but I doubt she’s computer savvy enough to think about doing it. She also seems to believe doing any online research equates to your believing any old rubbish info. (And changing doctors is feasible only if you live in an urban center; in rural areas you get what you get.)

April 10, 2010 at 10:07 pm
(4) kitty says:

One thing that bothers me about it that no article seems to address is the issue of internet and google security.

Does anybody understand that anything you type into a Google search is NOT PRIVATE? That Google stores this information about searches; that the search words aren’t transmitted securely? That anybody with a little of computer savvy can find out this information?

Now, if the doctor only uses first-last name than it may not be a big deal. The only information that becomes public is your name and where this search came from. Not a biggy – unless you don’t want anybody to know that you are visiting a particular doctor.

But what if your doctor types in more of your private information into a google search? How about your SSN? Some not-very-nice people may get your SSN. Nice? What about John Smith+123-45-6789. If someone types that, it’s really not that difficult for a not-very-nice person to get hold of it. Think about it.

My personal problem is not that my doctor will search for my name. MY problem is that the doctor discloses my private information to the third party (Google and whoever is interested) without my consent.

April 5, 2011 at 3:48 pm
(5) Cleta says:

My foot surgeon/podiatrist and his wife are part of my FaceBook friends. Both grew up in this area and I know at least one relative of hers. They are so busy I seldom see them on line; I have chatted with him a couple of times. They are just a few months younger than my youngest child so it’s almost like several of my other fb friends who were in my two Girl Scout Troops.

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