As you’re getting ready for work, you hear a patient’s name on the news because he has been arrested for allegedly committing a crime. During a patient interview, personal ties to a prominent political figure are disclosed and you want to learn more. A patient hasn’t shown for several treatments and you suspect that death has occurred. You see a famous person walking the halls of your hospital with family. Perhaps you have encountered one of these situations or something similar. What was your next step? Did it involve an Internet search?

We are living in a pivotal time in history where more information is available than one can conceivably process at once. We have the ability to search for any piece of information, on any topic, at any point during the day. Within a matter of seconds, we get search results with thousands of links spread across several pages of our favorite search engine. In fact, some of us may be surprised what we’d find if we searched online for public information about ourselves.

The question really becomes, if information is available publicly online, is it a violation to search for information about our patients? Is consent required? Is this similar to a HIPAA violation, like when searching for information about a patient in a medical record? This article seeks to address these questions and others as we co-exist in an on-demand “information nation.”

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