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.