Bioethics Blogs

Why Doctors Should Audio Record Patient Encounters

by Craig Klugman, Ph.D.

In Dave Eggers novel, The Circle, a behemoth tech company makes it popular for people to wear cameras and to live broadcast every minute of their lives (except for time in the bathroom). The goal is to remove secrets and to improve behavior because if you thought you were being watched all the time, you would always behave well (drawing on Bentham and Foucault’s ideas of the panopticon).

Much has been written about using cameras to protect ourselves. To combat racial injustice and claims of abuse, many police departments have adopted the use of body cams for officers. To ensure that seniors are being treated properly, cameras on their persons or in the nursing homes have been proposed. And of course, nanny cams have been in use for years.

A new JAMA article out of the University of Texas Health Science Center ask about patients and families secretly recording physician conversations. With cellphones and tablets, recording is quick, easy, and can be surreptitious. The article discusses the pluses (patients can revisit conversations, more accurate “notetaking,” knowing what’s going on when one is unconscious or family is not around) and minuses (attacking physician reputations on social media, creating evidence for a lawsuit). The authors recommend that if the physician suspects a patient or family member is recording a conversation, that the physician assents and takes this opportunity to improve communication. They suggest that the technology genie is out of the bottle and opposing is only likely to damage the physician-patient relationship.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.