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Doctors need better guidance over internet use

Monday 23rd February 2015
Leading experts have claimed that there needs to better guidelines on when its appropriate for doctors to google their patients symptoms.
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The internet and social media are a common part of modern life, but when should they be used to guide a doctor's diagnosis? 

Leading experts from Penn State College of Medicine have said that more guidance is needed to help doctors determine when it's appropriate to use the internet to help treat a patient. The researchers suggested that professional medical societies must update or amend their online guidelines to address when it is ethical to "Google" a patient. 

Associate professor of medicine Dr Maria J Baker said: "As time goes on, Googling patients is going to become more and more common, especially with doctors who grew up with the internet."

Dr Baker published her new report in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, based on her experience as a genetic counsellor and medical geneticist. She recently found that the internet could be an invaluable resource when patient medical history can not be verified.

She said that using a search engine can "undermine the trust" between a doctor and their patient but in some cases it is "ethically justified". 

Along with the paper's other co-authors, Dr Baker makes a number of recommendations for how the internet should be used to support patient care. These range from evidence of patients visiting a number of different doctors to get a desired diagnosis to them making claims about their medical history that seem unlikely or improbable. Also included in the suggestions are concerns about the patient being a suicide risk or inconsistency in their symptoms.

Dr Baker said it is hoped that, by offering a number of scenarios that raise important ethical questions, a conversation will be sparked that triggers the development of professional guidelines. 

"Formal professional guidelines could help healthcare providers navigate this current 'Google blind spot,'" she said. 

Written by James Puckle

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