Privacy Matters

The LA Times this morning had a rather thought-provoking article on issues posed by the intersection of privacy, professional interactions, and the Internet (in particular, Google and Facebook). Since the article was in the health section, it was focusing on networking between patients and doctors. Is it ok for a patient to “friend” their doctor (or lawyer, or accountant)? Within what limits is it ok? Will it definitely cause problems down the road? Won’t it almost certainly cause the professional bond to become more casual? As the article discusses, there are definite cases where social networking between doctor and patient is useful:

Other situations may justify an Internet search or a visit to the patient’s social networking site as well, says Dr. David H. Brendel, an assistant professor of psychiatry at McLean. Maybe a psychiatrist suspects a patient has suicide plans, for example.

But doctors should ask themselves some hard questions before doing so, to be sure they are not just being voyeuristic.


And that goes both ways. Without revealing specifics, Brendel recalls a case in which a patient found information on a social networking site that “led to significant discomfort for the physician and the breakdown of their relationship to the point where the patient had to see another doctor.”

I don’t know why we got to a point where privacy isn’t the first consideration in forming relationships. For example, when I first meet someone face to face, I don’t make sure they’re in on all my insecurities, or all the places I’ve been, or all the things I’ve done in my life. Yet, when I let someone into a FaceBook profile, unless I take the trouble to adjust my privacy settings, they are immediately clued into everything I’ve done, everything I’m interested in, and everything I dislike. Even on a blog, you kind of have to search for all that information to get a good idea of who the person behind the blog is. This volume of information leads me to wonder how much further psychological and psychiatric therapy can go in a shorter amount of time if a patient’s therapist can actually observe, rather unobtrusively, his/her personal interactions.  I can’t wait for that study to be conducted (if it hasn’t already)!

Finally, I don’t get how one even gets to the first step of adding their doctor as a “friend” or why a doctor would approve (or initiate) the request. When is your doctor ever really your “friend” offline? If not offline, then why online? Is it like the obsession some people have with collecting and distributing business cards, a way of gauging how likable, popular, or relevant we are in today’s hyper-connected society? Is it a process of adding a million people in an effort to find that handful of people you can really, truly, and finally relate to? Is our disconnectedness causing us to no longer see when, where, how, and why we should connect to another individual?


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