The Doctor Will Google You Now

I know you Google your doctor. But would it surprise you to learn that your doctor Googles you?

According to a recent essay in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry, the practice is not all that unusual, even among those doctors who focus on your mental health. Often, doctors are compelled by the need to find a particular piece of information. Other times, it’s simple curiosity.

In some cases, what the authors call “patient-targeted Googling” is clearly beneficial — for example, when a patient is blogging about her suicidal thinking, or when an unconscious person comes into an emergency room with scant identification. But in other cases, the authors write, doctors are motivated by “curiosity, voyeurism and habit.”

“Most patients would probably be shocked that their doctor had the time or the interest to conduct a search like this,” one of the authors, David Brendel, said in an interview.

During a recent session, I brought up this topic with my own shrink. He rarely interacts with the web and is as renown for his cynicism about academic essays as he is for being an excellent doctor. I fully expected him to dismiss the issue with a wave of the hand and then gently guide us back to our more prolific and productive conversations about being the child of Holocaust survivors or the upcoming NFL draft.

Instead, he surprised me with this response: “Everyone Googles everyone these days. Why would this be any different?”

He Googles me, he really Googles me.

I guess now I know why, after greeting me in the waiting room, he sometimes walks into the office and takes the couch for himself.

The notion of a doctor searching for additional information about a patient brings up obvious issues of privacy. But for a new breed of patient it might also surface questions about the depth and quality of the doctor’s engagement. In an era of decreasing privacy, you are left with a key question:

Would you be more upset if your doctor Googled you or if he didn’t?

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