HEALTHCARE
March 24, 2015

Why Your Doctor May Ask You to Turn Off Your Cell Phone

It can help to record your doctor's advice during an office visit, but depending how you handle it, not every doctor may see it that way.

The videos we take with our cell phones are often about the silly things our pets do or our toddlers' every move. But with our smartphones we can also make voice recordings of our doctor visits. In fact, it's so easy to do, your doctor doesn't even have to know he or she is being recorded.

But what effects will this have on doctors and on how they practice medicine?

Three doctors recently weighed in on this issue in a Viewpoint published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. And while they don't offer a firm conclusion, they have plenty to say about the practice.

The technology is not going to go away. How should doctors deal with it?

On the positive side, patients often forget exactly what it was that their doctor told them, especially given the stress that can accompany a visit to the doctor. From the name of an over-the-counter preparation to suggestions on altering a medication dosage, or advice about what to eat, having a recording is much more reliable than the typical patient's memory of what their doctor said. And medical terms are notoriously hard for patients to remember.

On the other hand, recordings can be used for malicious purposes. Personal conversations broadcast over social media can ruin reputations or serve as the basis for a potential malpractice suit.

Federal law allows recording a private conversation as long as one party agrees to it. And while some states, such as California and Florida, require the consent of both parties, if a patient wants to record a conversation with their doctor, the law typically allows them to do so. But is it right to record without telling the doctor?

Patients are protected by federal law from having their medical information, including their conversations with their doctors, disclosed to anyone without their permission, but doctors have no such protection of privacy when it comes to their interaction with patients.

All of this can leave doctors feeling vulnerable at best and downright suspicious at worst. And it could impact the doctor-patient relationship, causing doctors to order unnecessary tests to protect themselves or refusing to continue seeing patients toward whom they feel distrustful.

Yet the technology is not going to go away. How should doctors deal with it?

The authors think it all starts with doctors assuming that every conversation they have with a patient may be recorded. From there, the outcomes vary, depending on the physician.

Some doctors may simply continue to do their job as they would normally. Or perhaps they will end up choosing their words a bit more carefully. Or they can ask specific patients if they are recording conversations and see where that discussion leads.

The main point the authors make is that as long as doctors do their job professionally and compassionately, the motives of patients recording conversations and visits will be irrelevant. And this means that recordings should not substantially change the way that doctors practice medicine.

The article is written from a doctor's perspective and neither offers advice to patients nor discusses the ethics involved in recording their doctor. But a patient who wants to record a conversation with their doctor might consider that it's only common courtesy to ask permission before doing so.

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