Can patients record doctor's office visits?

The short answer is YesWith the ubiquitous nature of smartphones today, recording and sharing a conversation with a physician is incredibly easy.

Additionally, the patient can take the Protected Health Information (PHI) in those secretly recorded conversations and share it with whomever they want. It’s their PHI, they can do with it as they will.

There are Benefits to recording conversations with physicians (in secret or in the open): 

  • improved accuracy of information
  • patient adherence,
  • patient engagement; ability to share information with family members or caregivers;
  • ability to better absorb information if the initial conversation is particularly emotional (e.g. being told of a new cancer diagnosis)

There is a potential negative consequence to recording conversations:

  • the relationship between the doctor and the patient could be damaged, words on the recording could be taken out of context.

Now let’s address openly recording a conversation with a physician. There is certainly nothing wrong with recording a conversation with a physician and telling them you are going to do so.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 50 % of patients walk out of their physician’s office not clear on what they were told or are supposed to do. This can occur for several reasons.

  • First, physicians often overestimate the topics and duration of what they have discussed with their patients. 
  • Also, telling patients once is usually not enough to get the patient’s attention or buy-in. 
  • Finally, patients also filter what they hear from their doctor in a variety of ways that physicians usually know nothing about (the patient’s health beliefs, values and previous experience.)  

What are a couple of common instances where this breakdown in communication occurs?

  • Changes in how and when to take medications.  Doctors will often change the number of pills or frequency of an existing medication—so what the pill bottle says is no longer what the patient should be doing.  Communication breakdown: patient takes medication incorrectly.
  • Steps to take to get labs drawn or test taken.  The most common confusion here is that many blood tests (cholesterol, blood sugar, triglycerides) need to be completed while the patient is fasting.  
  • Frequently, either the patient will not hear these instructions or the doctor forgets tell them (or most common, the doctor assumes the nurse will tell the patient and the nurse assumes the doctor told the patient.) 

If people do not know what the doctor said or what to do 50 percent of the time, what can be done to change that? Make an audio recording of the office visit. This way after the visit, patients can go back and listen to the conversation with your doctor and even email a copy of the conversation to a friend or family member.

It might be best to ask your physician if you can record the conversation. Some may object, but most will not.  Often patients have family members in the exam room during office visits taking notes, so most physicians are used to that dynamic.

What do you think?  What are some other ways to improved doctor-patient communication?

The US healthcare system is a quagmire of miscommunication. Recording and transcribing the conversations could help.

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