In the most recent issue of The Journal of Clinical Ethics, authors Genes and Appel explore the
ethical considerations at play when physicians might use the internet to gather
patient information. They conclude, correctly I believe, that there are circumstances in which
accessing information about a patient supports beneficent efforts to provide
quality care, even in non-emergent circumstances. Rather than damaging the
doctor patient relationship, an informed provider is better equipped to support
the patient’s best interests if loved ones can be located, presentation of
information can be confirmed as factual or not, and the context of this
patient’s needs can be more fully understood by the care team.
Social media, such as the now ubiquitous Facebook, is often
considered a forum where people may express thoughts and feelings they fail to
articulate in person. Consider the posts of an angry or despondent partner
after the end of a relationship. Should commentary become threatening – to self
or others – this is considered cause for concern and these comments are taken
as valid expressions that warrant immediate emergency intervention. Text
messages carry the same weight as spoken words, and are preserved in electronic
format to be shared by the recipient at will. Failing to consider such
communications as part of the purview of healthcare providers could lead to
harm for the patient or others. While these expressions might not be quickly
discoverable by physicians, they can, in some instances, be lifesaving
components adding to the overall clinical picture.
The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI’s online graduate programs, please visit our website.