Dr Christine Walker
Don't jump to conclusions if a patient asks to record their consultation – it could benefit you both.
Most patients will have a smartphone with them when you see them, meaning they'll have the means to record your consultation. The MDU frequently receives calls from members who are concerned that a patient has asked if they can record a discussion, or that they are concerned a patient might intend to record a conversation covertly.
The prospect of a patient recording their consultation with you may seem quite alarming and it's easy to assume the worst, and it is sometimes the case that patients will use recordings of this sort when making complaints. However, it does not always follow that they're trying to catch you out or that a complaint or claim is inevitable – in fact, a recording of a consultation could be to your advantage.
A recording can help ensure the patient doesn't miss anything important. There's often a lot to discuss, and research has repeatedly shown that patients do not remember much of what they have been told by a doctor. This is sometimes illustrated in complaints where the patient claims not to have been told something that is clearly documented in the notes as having been discussed.
If patients are able to review the recording in their own time, it may help them understand the risks and benefits of the different treatment options and make an informed decision about the treatment they want, which makes life easier for them and you. Some doctors also use recordings of discussions – for example, of the consent process for a complex procedure – and provide a copy to the patient and keep a copy for their own records.
There is no legal barrier to your patients recording their conversations with you. Personal data which is processed for personal or household activities is outside the scope of GDPR. You can ask that the patient respects your confidentiality and request that the recording is not shared with others or posted online.
A more pragmatic approach would be to invite the patient to record the consultation openly and ask them if you can have a copy.
Some patients may not ask to record a consultation, possibly because they expect you to refuse. Even if you feel uncomfortable at the prospect of being covertly recorded and believe it suggests a breakdown in the doctor-patient relationship, you may find it difficult to justify refusing to treat them on that basis alone.
A confrontational response to this situation may easily rebound on you and further damage the relationship. If you suspect that a patient is covertly recording you, a more pragmatic approach would be to invite the patient to record the consultation openly and ask them if you can have a copy of the recording, which could be stored as part of their records.
In seeking their consent to this you should reassure your patient that the recording will be stored securely by the practice and only used for this purpose.
If you're concerned the patient's actions are a sign that they don't trust you, or are part of a pattern of interactions that suggest this is the case, it is usually better to make arrangements to have a frank discussion about the underlying issues, rather than focusing on the recording itself.
You might wish to take this approach further and display a poster asking that patients should not record covertly but should ask the doctor first if they wish to make a recording.
Occasionally patients do post some record of their interaction with their doctor on social media, such as an extract of a letter, but this could equally be a recorded consultation. Engaging with social media complaints is difficult. It can sometimes help to ask the patient to get in touch with you directly, but in other circumstances that might simply perpetuate the focus on the patient's post. If you are faced with a social media complaint, we would suggest you contact the MDU so we can tailor advice to the particular circumstances.
Finally, bear in mind that while recordings (even those made covertly) can be admitted as evidence of wrongdoing by the GMC and in court, they can also provide evidence of ethical and professional behaviour.
Dr Christine Walker
Christine Walker undertook GP training before choosing a career in paediatrics. Her particular interests were neonatology, paediatric neurology and child development. She became a consultant in community paediatrics, leading a multi-disciplinary child development centre team and she was made a fellow of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. She has been a medico-legal adviser at the MDU since 2009.
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