Background: Patient-targeted googling (PTG) describes the searching on the internet by healthcare professionals for information about patients with or without their knowledge.
Introduction: Little research has been conducted into PTG internationally. PTG can have particular ethical implications within the field of mental health. This study was undertaken to identify the extent of PTG by New Zealand mental healthcare professionals and needs for further guidance regarding this issue.
Materials and Methods: All (1850) psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and psychotherapists working in New Zealand were electronically surveyed about their experience of PTG and knowledge about the associated practice of therapist-targeted googling (TTG). Due to ethics and advertising restrictions, only one indirect approach was made to potential participants.
Results: Eighty eight clinicians (5%) responded to the survey invitation. More than half (53.4%, N=47) of respondents reportedly engaged in PTG, but only a minority (10.3%, N=9) had ever received any education about the subject. Reasons for undertaking PTG included facilitating the therapeutic process, information being in the public domain and mitigating risks. Reasons against undertaking PTG included impairment of the therapeutic relationship, unethical invasion of privacy and concerns regarding the accuracy and clinical relevance of online information. Two-thirds of participants reported being the subject of TTG.
Discussion: New Zealand psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and psychotherapists are engaging in PTG with limited education and professional guidance. Further discussion and research are required so PTG is undertaken in a manner that is safe and useful for patients and health practitioners.
Thabrew, H., Sawyer, A. & Eichenberg, C. (2018). Patient-Targeted Googling by New Zealand Mental Health Professionals: A New Field Of Ethical Consideration in the Internet Age. Telemedicine & e-Health, DOI: 10.1089/tmj.2017.0247.