Psychiatrists Must Beware the Perils of Cyberspace

An article by Jun Yan in the July 17 issue of Psychiatric News:

If a patient has scattered personal information in cyberspace for all to see, can it be interpreted as his or her choice to relinquish confidentiality on this information? What if a patient denies suicidal ideation but posts suicidal messages on an online blog? Because real-life pathology is often reflected in a patient’s online persona, the psychological clues gleaned from a patient’s online presence may help the psychiatrist conduct the assessment more quickly and thoroughly, he suggested.

In one instance, Huremovic decided to read the blog of a patient who was in a coma because of a suicide attempt. He did not know the patient and, as the consulting psychiatrist, needed to understand and assess the risk of suicidality for the patient quickly once he awoke. Nevertheless, he had mixed feelings about the decision to look at the blog and is still uncertain about whether it was the right thing to do.

Recently, APA’s Ethics Committee gave a brief recommendation on whether it is ethical for psychiatrists and residents to Google their patients: “‘Googling’ a patient is not necessarily unethical. However, it should be done only in the interests of promoting the patient’s care and well-being and never to satisfy the curiosity or other needs of the psychiatrist” (Psychiatric News, May 1).

Read more in Psychiatric News.

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