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Googled By Your Doctor

MIAMI (CBSMiami) - You wouldn't think twice about Googling information about your doctor or dentist.  But what if you found out they were also looking up information about you online?

A controversial question on whether to Google, or not to Google, patients is being debated. Is it a violation of patients' privacy or a good way for doctors to better help with care?

Ever since she got braces, Thursday Bram spent lots of time at her dentist's office. However, she certainly wasn't braced for what she learned while at one of her appointments.

"My dentist had looked me up on Google," said Bram.

Bram, who runs her own marketing company, said while she was in the chair, the dentist confessed he checked her out online and asked for business advice.

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

Other health care providers have confessed to looking up information about their patients as well.

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

Dr. Warraich admitted that he 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.

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

However, the American College of Physicians advises health care providers not to Google patients.

Dr. Molly Cooke said looking up information online can compromise doctor/patient relationships and trust.

"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 of you that clearly showed you smoking,'" said Dr. Cooke.

So what about if patients don't give physicians the full story?

Take the the case of a woman who requested a preventive double mastectomy. Puzzled 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.

After seeing that, doctors decided not to operate.

Dr. Cooke did, however, acknowledged that there can be extraordinary situations where it's acceptable to look patients up though.

"I suppose there are instances where it might be necessary to confront a patient about a misrepresentation, but those would be rare situations," said Dr. Cooke.

As for Bram, she said she wished her dentist had just asked her about her business, instead of searching online.

"I never really expected that, even though now it's very common place to Google things, I never really expected that my doctor or my dentist may be using it in that way," said Bram.

Dr. Warraich said before a medical professional Googles a patient, they need to ask themselves: how is this going to benefit the patient? And if they don't have a good answer for that, log off.

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