Watch CBS News

Health: Is Your Doctor Googling You?

By Stephanie Stahl

It's not unusual to go online and research a doctor before making an appointment, but would you be surprised to find out the doctor is doing the same with you?

As Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl explains, it's a "procedure" that's causing some controversy.

When Thursday Bram visited her dentist recently, she never expected her exam would extend outside his office.

"My dentist had looked me up on Google," Thursday says.

That's right, her dentist Googled her and found -- among other things -- that she runs her own marketing company.

"I never really expected that," she says.

She also never expected that while she was in the chair the dentist would confess to checking her out online, and ask for her business advice.

"That felt a little bit awkward for me," says Thursday.

It's a growing trend. Doctors are turning the tables on patients and checking them out online.

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

He admits he's searched online for patient info, but he says he usually only does it when patient safety is a concern. Still, he admits it can be hard to ignore all the personal information available.

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

The American College of Physicians says Googling patients is a bad idea. It 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, with you -- that clearly show you smoking," agrees Dr. Molly Cookie, President of the American College of Physicians.

And there are other murky situations. A case study for the Hastings Center describes a woman who requested a preventive double mastectomy, but puzzled doctors didn't think her story added up. They Googled her and found Facebook pages claiming she had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and solicited donations. Those doctors decided not to operate.

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

Experts say that before a medical professional Googles a patient, they need to ask themselves how it will benefit the patient. If there is no good answer, it's time to log off.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.