Has anybody ever tried to record one of your consultations? Yesterday, a patient of mine took his smartphone out of his pocket, placed it on my desk and said: “you don’t mind if I record this consultation do you doctor?” I tried not to look too surprised, gave my consent, and proceeded to go through the treatment options to him for his early prostate cancer. As I did so, perhaps a little more thoroughly and carefully than usual, I vaguely wondered whether the recording would be admissible in court or in front of the GMC if things did not go according to plan later.
By coincidence, last night I read in the BMJ a case where a patient had asked her family doctor whether she could use her smartphone to record the encounter (BMJ 2014;348g2078). Her doctor was apparently taken aback and paused to gather his thoughts. He asked the patient to put her phone away, saying that it was not the policy of the practice to allow patients to take recordings. The mood of the meeting shifted, initially jovial, the doctor had become defensive. She complied and turned off her smartphone.
As soon as the phone was turned off, the doctor raised his voice and berated her for making the request, saying that the use of a recoding device would betray the fundamental trust that is the basis of a good patient-doctor relationship. The patient tried to reason, explaining that the recording would be useful to her and her family, but the doctor shouted at her asking her to leave immediately and find another doctor.
It later transpired that the patient could prove that this had happened because she had a digital recording of the encounter. Although she had turned off her smartphone, she had a second recording device in her pocket, turned on, that had recorded every word!
According to the MDU, patients do not need their doctors’ permission to tape a consultation, as the information they are recording is personal to them and therefore exempt from data protection principles. Section 36 of the UK Data Protection Act 1998 states: “Personal data processed by an individual only for the purposes of that individual’s personal, family or household affairs (including recreational purposes) are exempt from the data protection principles and the provisions of Parts II and III”.
If you suspect that a patient is covertly recording you, you may be upset by the intrusion but if you act in a professional manner at all times then it should not really pose a problem. Your duty of care also means you would not be justified in refusing to continue to treat the patient. If you did, it could easily rebound on you and further damage your relationship with the patient. And, as the case described above illustrates, your refusal to continue with the consultation could easily be recorded!
Roger Kirby, The Prostate Centre, London