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Smartphone recordings of doctors by patients: is this the new norm?

Victor Lewin - Thursday, September 21, 2017

Since the advent of the smartphone, more and more patients are attempting to record visits with their treating physicians.

Such recordings have the potential to improve patient health care, but also carry risks of which patients may not be aware.

Earlier this year, the Canadian Medical Protective Association (“CMPA”), an organization that provides legal defence and liability protection for physicians in Canada, cautioned doctors to prepare for patients recording their clinical encounters.

Recording a Doctor’s Treatment – The Potential Benefits and Concerns.

It is understandable why patients would want to keep a video or audio recording of their visit to a doctor. A recording of a doctor’s visit could reduce or eliminate confusion about a doctor’s advice for a patient’s treatment plan. As well, it could be a valuable resource for a patient to share with his or her family. Such transparency could potentially improve a patient’s adherence to a treatment plan, improving a patient’s overall health.

However, there are privacy concerns to be considered. Doctor’s offices are public places. As such, physicians understandably have concerns about a patient making a recording in a public area such as a waiting room or similar space. Such a recording could inadvertently capture personal information about other patients or staff. This could result in privacy breach allegations against the physician.

As well, a patient who records a clinical encounter without a doctor’s knowledge and consent could damage the doctor-patient relationship, as this may be viewed by the physician as a breach of trust and lack of confidence in his or her abilities as a physician.

CMPA Cautions Physicians

The CMPA has cautioned physicians about patients recording their treatment in a publication earlier this year titled “Smartphone recordings by patients: Be prepared, it’s happening” (https://www.cmpa-acpm.ca/en/advice-publications/browse-articles/2017/smartphone-recordings-by-patients-be-prepared-it-s-happening)

Physicians have been advised to consider preparing policies to address recordings by patients. As well, it is suggested that physicians proactively speak with patients about their intention to record the treatment provided in an effort to prevent allegations of privacy breaches against physicians and to prevent the breakdown of doctor-patient relationships.

Is this the New Norm?

Patients have legitimate concerns about their health and treatment, which has become much easier to document given the integration of the smartphone into peoples’ lives.

However, it is important for patients to recognize that there are valid concerns of privacy and consent about such recordings which presumably will only increase in frequency.

Notwithstanding the CMPA’s warning, it appears that smartphone recordings of doctors by patients could become the new norm for documenting medical treatment.

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