Do Therapists Google Their Patients? A Survey Among Psychotherapists


Back­ground: The increa­sing use of the Inter­net and its array of social net­works brings new ways for psy­cho­the­ra­pists to find out infor­ma­tion about their pati­ents, often refer­red to as patient-targeted goog­ling (PTG). Howe­ver, this topic has been sub­ject to little empi­ri­cal rese­arch; there has been hardly any atten­tion given to it in Ger­many and the rest of Europe and it has not been inclu­ded in ethi­cal gui­de­li­nes for psy­cho­the­rapy des­pite the com­plex ethi­cal issues it rai­ses.

Objec­tive: This study explo­red Ger­man psy­cho­the­ra­pists’ beha­vior and expe­ri­en­ces rela­ted to PTG, inves­ti­ga­ted how these vary with soci­ode­mo­gra­phic fac­tors and the­ra­peutic back­ground, and explo­red the cir­cum­stan­ces in which psy­cho­the­ra­pists con­side­red PTG to be appro­priate or not.

Methods: A total of 207 psy­cho­the­ra­pists respon­ded to a newly deve­lo­ped ques­ti­on­naire that asses­sed their expe­ri­ence of and views on PTG. The study sam­ple was a non­re­pre­sen­ta­tive con­ve­ni­ence sam­ple recrui­ted online via several German-speaking pro­fes­sio­nal the­rapy plat­forms.

Results: Most the­ra­pists (84.5%, 174/207) sta­ted that they had not actively con­side­red the topic of PTG. Howe­ver, 39.6% (82/207) said that they had alre­ady loo­ked for pati­ent infor­ma­tion online (eg, when they sus­pec­ted a pati­ent may have been lying) and 39.3% (81/207) knew col­leagues or super­vi­sors who had done so. Only 2.4% (5/207) of the­ra­pists had come across PTG during their edu­ca­tion and trai­ning.

Con­clu­si­ons: It is essen­tial to pro­vide PTG as a part of the­ra­pists’ edu­ca­tion and trai­ning. Fur­ther­more, the com­plex pro­blems con­cerning PTG should be intro­du­ced into codes of ethics to pro­vide expli­cit gui­dance for psy­cho­the­ra­pists in prac­tice. This report pro­vi­des initial sug­ges­ti­ons to open up debate on this topic.

Full ver­sion:

Eichen­berg, C. & Herz­berg, P.Y. (2016). Do The­ra­pists Google Their Pati­ents? A Sur­vey Among Psy­cho­the­ra­pists. J Med Inter­net Res, 18 (1):e3. DOI: 10.2196/jmir.4306.