Intended for healthcare professionals

Feature Doctors and Research

“It’s the duty of every doctor to get involved with research”

BMJ 2015; 351 doi: (Published 27 November 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;351:h6329

Re: Suggested research “ 'Should psychiatrists google their patients?' in BJPsych Bulletin

People have different interests and skills. It is not possible for most to both practice and do what is generally considered 'proper' research in any real depth, with knowledge of all the legal and ethical considerations. Or possibly attracting critiscism from those whose primary job it is. One of the individuals who has been influential in describing what most practitioners do in every day practice, or should be encouraged to do, is Donald Shon (1930-1997) (Web sites describe his work). He describes the need for conscious 'reflection in practice' especially because it can reveal unconscious motives and biases. His teaching also includes 'reflection in knowing', which is what we all do as a result of successful practice without consciously thinking. Maybe his theories have influenced the emphasis on reflective practice now but how it can be shared or even tested is more unclear. Shon's emphasis on examining the unconscious may not be popular amongst researchers rather than practitioners - I do not know - but it would be useful in research projects which impinge on individuals' personal lives. Usually this is qualitative research, although there are some studies by individuals interested in psychoanalysis into the impact of the researcher on the study and therefore on whether it will impact the data used to write up studies (See several Web sites re Research and Transference).

One rather shocking series of articles proposing research into use of the internet by practitioners is published in BJPsych Bulletin December 1, 2015. 'Special Articles' 'Should We Google our Patients?' The revision was received last year but despite a suggestion that the public/users should be involved in decision making no reference to their participation in drawing up these articles is made. There is also reference made to a proposal to tackle the negative posts about psychiatry made by services users by another contributor, who suggests a counter campaign to post positive messages. The articles are too long to describe in detail here but the idea of conducting research into giving the right of health and social workers to google individuals' twitter and facebook and other internet accounts (which has been worked up pretty comprehensively) is very dubious. Human beings being human there will already be some who google clients they have an interest in, and it will be almost impossible to stop when sites are open access - the suggestion that guidelines and ethic approval will make it more acceptable is sugaring a very unpleasant use of the internet. It actually sounds very much like 'stalking' under the cloak of 'professional need to know'.

Competing interests: No competing interests

06 December 2015
susanne stevens