Traffic stops, office conversations, and even doctor's visits -- more and more people today are choosing to record life's encounters. If you are doctor, there is a good chance that at least one of your last 10 patients recorded their visit -- either with or without permission.
A new survey finds many Americans, and their doctors, are turning to recordings for help. This "new reality" has some doctors and health care clinics worried about the ownership of recordings and their potential to be used in complaints or even lawsuits.
Researchers found that almost 30 percent of the doctors they surveyed had ever recorded a visit for a patient's use. And about 19 percent of U.S. adults said they'd done so themselves -- usually without asking the doctor's permission.
Patients also worry that recording a doctor's visit might be illegal, especially if done covertly.
Secretly recording clinical encounters may sound sneaky, but in 39 of 50 states, it’s legal. Furthermore, research shows that recorded clinical encounters can be empowering and educational for patients. Research shows that patients put a high value on audio recordings made of clinical encounters. For instance, in a 2014 review, Tsulukidze and colleagues found that, on average, 72 percent of patients listened to recorded consultations. Furthermore, 60 percent of patients shared these audio recordings with loved ones and others. For the most part, these recordings have been shown to improve patient recall and understanding of their conditions.
Other research findings suggest that patients and their family members often have difficulty comprehending what’s presented during a physician’s appointment because they are overcome with grief and complex emotions. Recordings can be played back later when the patient and family members are better prepared to understand the message, guidance, and advice. Oncologists have known about this phenomenon for some time, which is why recordings of encounters are commonly offered to patients who are being treated for cancer.
In the previously mentioned UK survey, Elwyn and co-authors found that the prime motivation to record clinician encounters is to enhance the healthcare experience and to share the experience with others. However, some patients reported wanting to use the recordings as evidence of poor care.
Since smartphones are ubiquitous, it's easier than ever to make such recordings, said study author Paul Barr, an assistant professor at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice. However, especially for seniors, it is recommended to have dedicated easy-to-use voice recorder that can be operated with just one push of the button.
Research shows that people forget up to 80 percent of the information they hear during an average medical visit. But, Barr said, research also shows that recordings can help make up for fuzzy memories.
The findings, published recently in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, are based on two surveys: One focused on 456 U.S. doctors in various specialties; the other included a nationally representative sample of 524 adults.
Just over 28% of doctors said they'd ever recorded a visit for a patient to use. It was most common among specialists who treat cancer: Almost half of the oncologists said they'd recorded appointments. The practice was also common among doctors who specialized in physical rehabilitation -- with 42% saying they'd ever recorded visits.
Of the respondents from the general public, almost one-fifth said they'd ever recorded a medical appointment. Most had done it with their doctor's permission -- but nearly 30 % said they'd secretly recorded a visit. However, especially at work, few people like to be recorded without their permission and physicians are no different.
Ultimately, healthcare providers, policymakers, and patient advocacy organizations must come together to work out guidelines and regulatory guidance regarding patient recording.
In the meantime, however, it may be a good idea for physicians in single-party jurisdictions to embrace the possibility that they’re being secretly taped during every clinical encounter. The physician could then proceed without letting any concerns about being recorded affect patient care, medical decision-making, or attitudes toward the patient.
Alternatively, a physician could ask whether the encounter is being recorded, express assent, and educate the patient about the utility and best use of these recordings.
Finally, even if there’s no legal obligation, it may behoove a patient to inform the clinician that they plan to record the encounter. Doing so may obviate any hard feelings, trepidation, or indignation on the part of the physician.