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Googling Your Patients

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Health care professionals are not immune to the lure of social media or the ubiquity of Google. And like most, turn to the Internet to find answers to questions big and small. But what happens when physicians go online to learn about their patients? Incidence of “patient-targeted Googling,” (PTG) is on the rise. But should professional standards and privacy prevent physicians from conducting PTG?

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Googling Your Patients

  1. 1. WHAT EVERY PHYSICIAN NEEDS TO KNOW: GOOGLING YOUR PATIENTS
  2. 2. THE LURE OF THE INTERNET • Health care professionals are not immune to the lure of social media or the ubiquity of Google. And like most, turn to the Internet to find answers to questions big and small.
  3. 3. • But what happens when physicians go online to learn about their patients? Incidence of “patient- targeted Googling,” (PTG) is on the rise. But should professional standards and privacy prevent physicians from conducting PTG? When is it ethical to conduct a Google search of a patient? PATIENT TARGETED GOOGLING ON THE RISE
  4. 4. • A research team at Penn State University has called upon medical societies to address this question. Currently, neither the American Medical Association (AMA) nor the Federation of State Medical Boards fully address PTG. SHOULD YOU GOOGLE YOUR PATIENTS?
  5. 5. NO SPECIFIC GUIDELINES • Without specific guidelines, “physicians are left to navigate this ‘Google blind spot’ independently, and to decipher on a case-by-case basis where the boundary of professionalism lies with regard to patient-targeted Googling.” 1
  6. 6. WHAT JUSTIFIES PTG? • Regarding future guidelines, Penn State researchers propose the following 10 scenarios that may justify PTG.
  7. 7. WHAT JUSTIFIES PTG? 1. Duty to re-contact or warn a patient of possible harm 2. Evidence of doctor shopping 3. Evasive responses to logical clinical questions 4. Claims in a patient’s personal or family history that seem improbable
  8. 8. WHAT JUSTIFIES PTG? 5. Discrepancies between a patient’s reported history and clinical documentation 6. Levels of urgency/aggressiveness that are not justified by clinical assessment 7. Receipt of discrediting information from other reliable health professionals that calls the patient’s story into question
  9. 9. WHAT JUSTIFIES PTG? 8. Inconsistent statements by the patient, or between a patient and family members 9. Suspicions about physical and/or substance abuse 10. Concerns about suicide risk 1
  10. 10. ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDATIONS • American College of Physicians and the Federation of State Medical Boards have published recommendations about professional conduct for physicians online. Regarding PTG, the recommendations encourage physicians to “consider the intent of the search, whether it affects continuing therapy for the patient, and how to appropriately document findings with implications for ongoing care.” 2
  11. 11. ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDATIONS • “Real potential exists for blurring professional and personal boundaries. Digitally tracking the personal behaviors of patients, such as determining whether they have indeed quit smoking or are maintaining a healthy diet, may threaten the trust needed for a strong patient-physician relationship.” 2
  12. 12. SOURCES 1. Baker MJ, George DR, Kauffman GL. “Navigating the Google Blind Spot: An Emerging Need for Professional Guidelines to Address Patient- Targeted Googling.” Springer Link. September 17, 2014. Available at http://link.springer.com/ article/10.1007%2Fs11606-014-3030-7. Accessed October 19, 2016.
  13. 13. SOURCES 2. Farnan J, Snyder Sulmasy L, Worster B, et al. “Online Medical Professionalism: Patient and Public Relationships: Policy Statement From the American College of Physicians and the Federation of State Medical Boards.” Annals of Internal Medicine. April 16, 2013. Available at http://annals.org/aim/ article/1675927/online-medical-professionalism- patient-public-relationships-policy-statement-from- american. Accessed October 19, 2016.
  14. 14. PARTNERSHIP FOR A NEW ERA OF MEDICINE ABOUT TMLT: With more than 20,000 health care professionals in its care, Texas Medical Liability Trust (TMLT) provides malpractice insurance and related products to physicians. Our purpose is to make a positive impact on the quality of health care for patients by educating, protecting, and defending physicians. www.tmlt.org Find us on:

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