Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Googling and Oogling

We've been talking about Psychiatrists and Facebook here on Shrink Rap and it got me thinking about psychiatry and technology. I always think of the internet as kind of public turf. Can it be "wrong" to Google someone? It's not illegal, it's not hard, and the stuff is all in the public domain. People will sometimes mention they've Googled me to find my phone number. I don't often Google patients, but once in a while. Someone once told me about their brother's murder in an international scandal and it sounded a bit weird, so I Googled (--the brother had been murdered and there was some mention of the international issue). But is "wrong?" I'm perplexed.

In a Psychiatric News story from July, Jun Yan writes in Psychiatrist Must Beware the Perils of Cyberspace:

Recently, APA's Ethics Committee gave a brief recommendation on whether it is ethical for psychiatrists and residents to Google their patients: "'Googling' a patient is not necessarily unethical. However, it should be done only in the interests of promoting the patient's care and well-being and never to satisfy the curiosity or other needs of the psychiatrist" (Psychiatric News, May 1).

On the other side of the coin, patients may Google their psychiatrists and not only uncover their professional credentials but also dig into their personal information, opinions, and attitudes. Many psychiatrists have blogs, Facebook pages, and a chat-room presence that patients could uncover, sometimes anonymously.


Figure 1
Jacob Sperber, M.D., discusses the ethical and therapeutic pitfalls that appear when psychiatrists and patients Google each other.

Credit: David Hathcox

"Patients and psychiatrists secretly Googling each other raises all kinds of legal, ethical, ideological, and personal concerns," Jacob Sperber, M.D., director of the psychiatry residency training program at NCUMC, told the audience. He believes that searching and gathering information about a patient behind the patient's back potentially violates the patient's autonomy and dignity and breaks the trust the patient has in the psychiatrist. It may be a violation of the patient's privacy, even if the psychiatrist's intention was to provide "zealous care."

Hmm, I'm not so sure about this. Why is it okay for a patient to Google me, but not okay for me to Google them out of curiosity? Shouldn't there be some control over what's up on the internet about us (meaning all of us humans)?

What do you think?