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Social media and networks in health and social care
Social media and networks in health and social care

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2.3 The ethical debate: Googling service users and patients?

Patient (or service user) targeted Googling (PTG) is an emerging topic for debate in health and social care and involves a health and social care professional using an internet search engine to find information (such as a social media profile) about a patient in their care. In 2019, the research into this topic was mainly focused on medicine and psychiatry but it is likely this will expand into other care professions. PTG can be defined as:

[the] practice of searching the internet for information about patients. Googling is used as the general term to describe internet searches using the popular search engine, Google.

(Gershengoren, 2019)

There are a range of arguments for and against such activities. Some research suggests that there are certain circumstances where searching for patients or service users on the internet is justified (Gershengoren, 2019; Thabrew et al., 2018; Chester et al., 2017); for example, when you believe someone to be a risk to themselves or others and service user safety is of concern. On the other hand though, it could be deemed to be an invasion of privacy.

Activity 7 Should you Google a service user?

Do you think that it is acceptable for health and social care workers to Google service users in their care?

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Your response was likely to be informed by your background, experience and own attitudes (Ryan et al., 2019).

The next section will discuss this further.