When doctors and patients secretly record each other

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A JAMA Viewpoint suggests that doctors should be aware that patients may be surreptitiously recording their conversations. The author, a neurosurgeon, takes a very benign view of this issue and recommends that if a doctor suspects that patient is recording a conversation, “the physician can express assent, note constructive uses of such recordings, and educate the patient about the privacy rights of other patients so as to avoid any violations.”

He also says this would show that the physician was open and strengthen the relationship between the doctor and the patient. I’m not so sure.

Here’s a different perspective. If a patient is secretly recording a conversation, the relationship between him and the doctor is already in serious trouble. What I would do is to tell that patient to find another doctor.

If a patient asked me if it was OK to record our conversation, I would agree, but I would also want to record it to preserve a complete copy.

This comes on the heels of another privacy and trust question: Should doctors Google their patients? There is no consensus on this, but having read several discussions on the topic, most writers feel that Googling patients should only be done for certain narrow reasons.

Most medical societies have not weighed in on the subject, but I would guess when guidelines are published, they will discourage the practice. But of course, patients may Google physicians at will.

Taking it to another level, Dr. Jeremy Brown, director, office of emergency care research, National Institutes of Health, recently proposed that emergency physicians should be equipped with body cameras to record audio and video of patient encounters.

Leaving aside such questions as who owns the videos, how to store the vast amount of data, and what impact this would have on the performance of the individual physicians, body cameras would establish an adversarial relationship that is unnecessary for the overwhelming majority of doctors and patients.

A physician interaction with a patient begins on terms quite different from those of a police officer interacting with a suspect in which the adversarial relationship is already established. The increasing number of controversial and highly publicized cases involving police and suspects has resulted in a need to protect both parties. This need seems much less pressing in medicine.

Where does this end? Should all patients be equipped with body cameras too in case the physician copy “gets lost”?

It is sad to realize how far we have sunk as a profession.

“Skeptical Scalpel” is a surgeon who blogs at his self-titled site, Skeptical Scalpel.  

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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