The Minnesota Psychological Association sponsored a presentation by Eric Harris, Ed.D., J.D, on Sept. 18, 2014 about ethical dilemmas in our current complex and challenging practice environment. Dr. Harris works for the American Psychological Association Insurance Trust and is an expert on how to reduce risk of complaints, malpractice litigation and other potentially severe problems. He spent a lot of time talking about the challenges, and risks, presented by information on the Internet about psychologists and other mental health professionals. Sometimes the information is posted by the professional, and sometimes it is posted by others.
Among Dr. Harris’ recommendations was that we routinely do a browser search on our name. He noted that it is increasingly common for potential mental health service consumers to use browser searches to locate potential mental health professionals, and even to research their background , including ratings on medical review sites and postings from previous people who have used their services. He recommended that we focus on the information on the first page of the browser search, as most people only look at the information on that page, but that we also scan information on the next few pages, just in case there is something problematic on page 2 or 3.
I have done this several times previously, always with interesting and sometimes surprising results. Dr. Harris’ advice reminded me that I was overdue to Google myself, so I recently did a search on “Richard Sethre, Psy.D., L.P.” – and was pretty shocked by what I found. Here is a summary, offered perhaps for a bit of entertainment and also perhaps to motivate the reader to do his own search.
On the first page I was pleased to find that the first item was a review on a medical site that gave me 5 stars. Next was a link to my LinkedIn page, and the third hit was a link to my professional website. Off to a good start! Unfortunately things went downhill for the rest of the page, and for the next two pages.
The 4th site was a link to a another review, the only other one that I could locate about me, which gave me only 3 of stars. Ouch! The good news was that the review itself is kind of incoherent, and maybed readers will find it to not be credible. On the other hand, for that site there are 64 psychologists in my area and the fact that I had an average of 3 stars gave me the ranking of number 4 out of the 64 – sometimes it is better to be noticed, I guess, than ignored, even if the notice is kind of lukewarm.
The next site was a picture, from my vacation early this year, of my wife in a swimsuit lounging in a pool in Mexico. Needless to say, that was not what I expected to find and I was pretty upset about it- until I figured out that I was the one who posted it on the Internet – by sharing it with friends using Google+. The next site on the page was another Google+ picture that I had posted, of my nephew, and included an inane comment that I had attached to the photo about a computer problem that I was having. On the next page there were YouTube videos of my wife playing with dolphins from another vacation- all posted by me and shared with friends.
After about an hour of research, I figured out how to delete these posts. All was good, I thought, until I redid the browser search and found 2 more new Google+ photos of my family on the first page. Of course, I used my new Google+ knowledge to delete them, but I began to wonder about a pattern, so I repeated the search – and found 2 more Google+ posts on the first page, again! It now was evident that the browser (Google Chrome) has some sort of algorithm that results in a search of Google+ and posting 2 images on the first page, as long as there are Google+ posts to mine for data. I went to my Google+ account and eventually figured out how to delete all of my posts, and that solved my problem- but if I had not done Dr. Harris’ recommended search I would have never known that anyone searching for me as a psychologist would see pictures and videos of my family and read my messages about the pictures.
Back to my browser search- I found a whole bunch of links to medical review sites. Most of them had information that was many years out of date. Very few of them had accurate information about my current office address and phone number. One of them has my office located in Plato, MN, and and another has me in Baxter, MN, I have passed through Baxter once in my past, only long enough to have a cup of coffee and not long enough to open an office, or even be misunderstood to have opened an office. As far as Plato, MN goes, I had never heard of it and had to do a browser search to verify that it even exists. Also, these posts also me listed as an “abortion provider.” Another post, from the same company, had me officing in Nelson, MN, but the name of the office was of a MD, not me. There was no evident way to contact this company to request that this blatantly inaccurate information be deleted. Interestingly, when I did later redid the search the bizarre links which had me practicing abortion services in rural MN did not show up- even though I had not, to my knowledge, any anything to get the obnoxious information removed.
I spent about two hours writing messages to the sites that provided either a “notify us of incorrect information” option or a “contact us” email address. So far, I have heard back from two. One of them actually updated their information about me.
The other site that responded to my request had a guy call me (they obviously have my current phone number) to try to sell me a service which he claimed would provide correct information to “50 to 60” medical review sites.” We did not get to the price for this service, as I was in no mood for a sales pitch and I pointed out that I had not asked to be on these sites, they had somehow obtained inaccurate information about me, I was doing him, and them, a favor by providing accurate information, and I was NOT going to pay anyone to fix their mistake. I guess, in retrospect, I may have ranted a bit, but if that was the case he was unfazed, and took the position that it should be worth it to me to pay to have accurate information on the Internet about my practice. I ended up having to hang up on him in order to escape his relentless sales pitch.
The last alarming link was on page 3. I had almost decided to stop my review after looking at page 2, but I went on to page 3 and found a link to a financial site that provides information about employee benefit programs and profit sharing plans. To my utter amazement, I found that they had posted information from one of my tax returns that included the amount of funds in my profit sharing account AND my home address. Of course, I have sent two strongly worded messages to that company requesting that this info be deleted, which appears to be run by sociopaths, and have not had a response.
Thanks goodness it is on page 3 and buried under 15 boring medical review sites, most of which have my address from 1995 and other obsolete, but harmless, information.
Dr. Harris provided advice about what to do in this sort of situation (he did not anticipate my unique situation, but did have similar examples in regard to pictures and personal information being revealed by browser searches). He recommended that we take control, as much as possible, of our Internet presence by having our own website and posting items, like a blog, on the website which result in visits to the website. This will, hopefully and with perhaps a bit of luck, result in more hits on the browser search about your website, your postings, your presentations, etc, and will -once again hopefully and with a bit of luck – drive the obnoxious hits back to the second page and beyond. Of course, he also recommended doing regular searches to stay on top of inaccurate or personal information.
Richard Sethre, Psy.D., L.P.