A significant minority of doctors will “Google their patients” at some point, according to several recent studies. But is this ethical?
In an article in The Conversation, Merle Spriggs, a researcher at the University of Melbourne’s Children’s Bioethics Centre, argues that there are several serious ethical problems with Googling one’s patients.
First and foremost, Spriggs suggests that this is a breach of trust: “When a doctor searches online for information about a patient without consent, their role changes from someone who works with the patient to someone who observes and spies on them.”
Spriggs also suggests that unreliable online information can obscure a doctor’s judgement of patients and their conditions: “Doctors, like the rest of us, also cannot be sure online information is accurate. For instance, more than 50% of adolescents admit posting false information on social media.”
A 2015 article in the Journal of General Internal Medicine argued that medical societies must update or amend their internet guidelines to address the ethics behind it. Interestingly, that article argued that Googling “may be viewed as ethically valid, and even warranted under certain circumstances.”
Yet regardless of ethical concerns, Spriggs suggests that Googling is inevitable, and patients should be aware of the possibility that their doctors might “look them up”. “To safeguard their privacy, patients can adjust their privacy settings and be careful of what they post”, she suggests.
Sunday, April 2, 2017
Here’s something very odd. Back in 2015 terrifying news came from Brazil about an epidemic of microcephaly – babies born with very small heads and brain damage. It seemed to be associated with the mosquito-borne Zika virus. Neighbouring countries prepared for the spread of Zika with a sense of dread. Lobby groups urged relaxation of abortion restrictions.
But how often in the past six months have we heard about the Zika virus and microenphaly? A graph on Google trends shows that it has dropped off the media’s radar. With good reason – there has been no epidemic of microcephaly. The experts expected 1,000 cases, but there were only about 100.
Nobody knows why this is. There is an association between Zika and microcephaly, but it must be more complicated than scientists first thought. An article in the NEJM this week reports the good and canvases a number of explanations. It may be that for microencephaly to occur, a woman needs to contract both Zika and Dengue fever.
Perhaps there is a lesson here – however bad the news is, DON'T PANIC!! In particular, there is no need to push for changes in abortion legislation before we know all the facts...
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Is it ethical to Google your patients?