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Seen At 11: Your Doctor Might Be Googling You

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CBS New York (con't)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — It’s not uncommon to research a doctor online before making an appointment.

But it may come as a surprise that some doctors might be doing the same with you.

As CBS 2’s Kristine Johnson reported, when Thursday Bram visited her dentist recently, she never expected to learn that he had looked her up online.

By Googling Bram, her doctor found, among other things, that his patient runs her own marketing company. And he ended up asking her for business advice.

“That felt a little bit awkward for me,” Bram said.

It’s a growing new trend — doctors are turning the tables on patients and checking them out online before they come in for an appointment.

Dr. Haider Warraich admitted he has searched online for patient info. He said he and other doctors he’s discussed the issue with usually only do it when patient safety is a concern.

“This really opens up a new paradigm into how physicians and patients interact and how physicians really get to know their patients,” Warraich said.

He said it can hard to ignore the personal information available.

“Whenever you’re in front of a computer, Google is always such an easy tool,” Warraich said, “which is why my fear is that just because of ease of use, this practice may in fact increase.”

The American College of Physicians advises against it. Dr. Molly Cooke, president of the organization, said looking up information online can compromise doctor-patient relationships and trust.

“Do not Google patients,” Cooke said.

“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,” she said.

But what about if patients don’t give their doctors the full story?

One case study referenced a woman who requested a preventative double mastectomy. Doctors didn’t think her story added up, so they Googled her and found Facebook pages claiming “she had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer” and was soliciting donations.

Doctors declined to operate.

Cooke acknowledged 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 said.

Experts say before a medical professional Googles a patient he or she needs to ask: How is this going to benefit the patient?

If there’s no good answer, log off.

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