Googling Patients: What if Something Bad Turns Up?

Arthur L. Caplan, PhD


February 11, 2014

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Hi. I am Art Caplan, from the Division of Medical Ethics at the New York University Langone Medical Center in New York City.

Do you use the Internet? Are you on Facebook? Are you someone who likes to tweet? What if your patients do that? What if you know that your patient has a Facebook page or you find out they are tweeting, or they ask you, "Will you friend me?" Should you use the Internet to keep an eye on your patients?

This question came up for me in a very real way when a physician associated with a transplant program asked me what I thought about the following situation. A gentleman who needed a liver transplant was told that he had to remain sober for a year to be eligible to receive that transplant. He said he would be. He was tested perhaps once every couple of months to see whether he had any alcohol in his bloodstream. They knew he had a problem with alcohol because he had a DWI (driving while intoxicated) that had resulted in a criminal conviction because someone was injured. That history was known to them. His sister said he was doing fine. He swore he was doing fine.

But the patient tweeted a picture of himself in a bar with a beer in his hand, and someone on the staff of the transplant unit -- not the surgeon, but someone who worked there -- saw that tweet. The information was passed on to the transplant team. The question became, do we exclude him based on this picture?


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