Although Web-based health resources and online communication with physicians can encourage greater patient participation in health care, the trend is raising ethical and liability questions for physicians, Scientific American reports.
In some cases, online communication with health care providers can help physicians make diagnostic and treatment decisions. Online tools also offer a low-cost way for individuals to seek health advice.
However, the shift toward online communication could create additional expectations for physicians. For example, physicians could face liability challenges if they fail to address certain information contained in an e-mail.
Experts also note that digital communication could raise new reimbursement issues and create time burdens that interrupt physician work flow (Harmon, Scientific American, 4/12).
In addition, some experts have raised concerns that the use of social media in medicine could be pushing ethical boundaries.
Although Internet searches and social media Web sites might be important tools for health care consumers, experts say the ethical line begins to blur when physicians conduct Internet searches about patients.
Loyola University-Maryland psychologist Jeffrey Barnett recommends that physicians think carefully before looking up a patient online to preserve a professional physician-patient relationship (Foreman, Boston Globe, 4/12).