Patients and healthcare providers are becoming increasingly connected via social media, bringing new opportunities and challenges. Direct connection can occur between patients and providers using online tools such as Facebook and LinkedIn. In addition, providers can gather information about patients using a search engine such as Google, referred to as patient-targeted Googling (PTG). An online 54-item survey was used to gain information on (1) how and to what extent genetic counseling students and genetic counselors connect directly with patients via social media sites, and (2) gather information on providers using PTG. Four hundred genetic counseling students and genetic counselors participated in the survey. The majority of respondents (88.9%; n = 344/387) find it is never or rarely acceptable to interact with current patients via social media sites; however, 27.7% (n = 110/397) have visited a patient’s social media site. Gathering information for patient care was the most commonly reported reason (76.8%; n = 43/56). Thirty-three percent (n = 130/394) have considered searching online or actually searched online for information about a patient. Curiosity was the most common reason (92.7%; n = 114/123); although, respondents also used PTG to obtain contact information and to prepare for patient sessions. Our study supports the need for development and dissemination of professional guidelines to serve as a valuable resource for practicing genetic counselors and genetic counseling training programs.
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