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Total recall: Can I record my doctor's visit?

More and more patients are recording their doctor’s appointments — openly as well as covertly. More doctors are recording visits as well.

But is it legal?

This article explains how and why patients and doctors are recording appointments and the legalities of this within various nations.

The facts

  • More people are seeking to record their doctor’s appointment
  • A meta-review found that recording consultations helped patients better understand and recall the information their clinician gave them
  • In the same study, 71% of patients listened to their recordings and 68% shared them with a caregiver
  • 15% of patients in a UK study had secretly recorded appointments
  • In the U.S., around one in 10 doctors have recorded their appointments with or without permission.

Why are people recording their appointments?

Technology has given consumers immense powers and possibilities — putting what was, 20 years ago, military-grade tech, into the hands of the masses. This has made it possible for people to record a doctor’s appointment. But why do they want to?

  • To remember key details
  • To communicate more easily with their caregivers
  • To share with family members who may not be nearby (or are unable to attend appointments with you) but want to be involved in care decisions
  • To use in getting a second opinion
  • To capture malpractice
  • For health insurance preauthorisation purposes

Clarity and memory

Studies show that half of all patients walk out of their physicians’ offices unclear on what they were just told or are supposed to do, unless they had taken notes or had someone with them.

A MedCity article suggests recording appointments would be useful for older patients who might have trouble remembering detailed information or have poor hearing. “Or perhaps with a plethora of doctor’s appointments to attend, it’s challenging for you to recall everything your specialist says.”

Care-giver guidance

A U.S. opinion piece found that “most people are sharing their recordings with a family member or caregiver, or they are listening to recording themselves, so they can better recall the information they received during the encounter”.

“Health care overall is moving toward greater transparency and patient recordings are going to become more common,” a U.S. opinion piece stated. “That means there would be tremendous benefit to patient advocacy groups, health care organisations, providers and policymakers working together to develop clear guidelines and policies around the responsible, positive use of open recordings.”

Second opinion and preauthorisation

A key reason for recording your doctor’s appointments is so that you can provide your health care provider — such as Aetna International — with the recording. This can help if you’d like support through diagnosis and treatment. For example, it may be helpful if you want a second opinion or if you need preauthorisation on a proposed treatment.

Doctors’ demands

There is also a growth in the number of doctors recording their appointments.

One doctor suggests that the practise of recording appointments could help both parties, saying: “Patients do not remember much information given to them by the physician and recording and making it available to patients could help alleviate this problem. It could also help their education.”

Issues

Clinical opinion is divided on the recording of medical appointments. While many doctors are keen to embrace the move to record appointments, there has been push back from others.

Some doctors feel ‘difficult’ patients may try to trip them up and pursue legal action. For example, in 2017 a Canadian court ruled in favour of a doctor who was stealthily recorded by a patient. “If the doctor was aware of the recording, he may have conducted his examination a different way,” the December 2017 decision reads. “He may have been clearer in the language used... Much of the communication that goes on is nonverbal. The doctor was denied an opportunity to ensure that his words and conduct were being accurately recorded.”

In the same article, a patient said: “I think it’s a person’s right to record what a doctor says - this is my health, my body, my condition.”

The sentiment is clear from the dozens of comments on an article where three doctors advocate the recording of appointments. One doctor comments: “The [General Medical Council] makes it clear that you should not look after patients and make medical decisions if you feel your ability to do so is impaired for whatever reason - health, alcohol etc. Well, when I am recorded I can definitely say I would not be able to perform at the same standard as I would normally do.”

Others cited concerns about malpractice suits, a dubious ‘agenda’ and ‘difficult’ patients.

This real or perceived resistance may be why many patients are covertly recording appointments with their mobile phones or other devices.

Is it legal to record your appointment?

Well, it depends: on whether you ask your doctor or not, and where you are in the world.

In Canada

In Canada, it is not illegal to covertly record someone so long as you are part of the conversation. But secretly recording your visit with your doctor could create a host of ethical and legal issues down the road, especially if those recordings are posted to social media or if you want to use them as evidence in court.

In the U.S.

The law varies from state to state. Under federal law, audio recording is permitted if at least one party to the conversation has given consent, which is the default for 38 states. This means that if you, the patient, wants to record a clinical encounter, you can do so without the doctor or health care provider's consent.

Only a dozen states (California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Washington) require that all parties in the conversation give permission. In these ‘all-party’ jurisdictions, covert recordings, on the part of doctors or patients, are illegal, as everyone being recorded must consent.

In the UK

Patients are within their rights to record consultations with or without their general practitioner’s consent or knowledge. Doctors have a professional duty to keep the content of a consultation confidential, but patients can do what they wish with it.

In Singapore

While the specifics of recording doctor appointments are hard to find, as is the case in other nations, wider laws of ‘wiretapping’ and ‘covert recording’ cover this area. For example, in Singapore, individuals may record a conversation for various purposes with or without the consent of the other party to the conversation.

Singapore doesn’t recognise the infringement of privacy as a reason to sue, as long as you are an individual acting in your own personal capacity (e.g. a patient.) But you may being sued for a breach of confidence if the conversation recorded contains confidential information that has been used or disclosed by you.

How do I go about recording my doctor’s appointment?

Ideally, you should talk to your doctor about why you want to record your appointment and ask if they mind. While in some cases the doctor cannot deny your request, it is a courtesy and may result in clearer information for your digital records.

We also recommend researching the law where you are: can you record them covertly? Do you have a right to record the appointment openly? If you’re looking to secure ‘evidence’, it may not be permissible in court regardless of consent.

Even if it is legal to record your doctor without their consent (or secretly) where you live, Aetna International recommends having an open and honest dialogue with your health care providers. This approach is more likely to result in the best outcome: better communication, better care, better health.

Read our tips for getting the most out of visiting your doctor

To find out more about our flexible international private medical insurance plans and the health and wellness support available, contact one of our sales consultants.

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