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Can patients record doctor’s office visits?


With the ubiquitous nature of smartphones today, recording (possibly in secret) and sharing a conversation with a physician is incredibly easy.

According to an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), it is legal to record conversations with your physician, even secretly.  The exceptions are in California and Florida, where all parties must be aware if a conversation is being recorded.

Additionally, except in California and Florida, 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.

Some other interesting stats from the Pew Research Center:

  • 77% of Americans have a smartphone
  • 94% of young adults have a smartphone 

There are some possible benefits to recording conversations - such as improved accuracy of information, patient adherence, patient engagement; ability to share information with family members or caregivers; or ability to better absorb information if the initial conversation is particularly emotional (e.g., being told of a new cancer diagnosis)

However, potentially negative consequences to recording conversations (especially in secret) include the damaging the relationship between the doctor or the words on the recording could be taken out of context.

If you openly record your doctor’s office visit, the advantages usually outweigh the disadvantages. Here’s some additional factors to consider.

Why Should we Record Office Visits?

According to the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 50-80% of medical information provided by healthcare practitioners is forgotten immediately after the appointment. This can occur for several reasons.

First, physicians may overestimate the topics and duration of what they have discussed with their patients.  Also, telling patients once may not enough to get the patient’s attention or buy-in.  Finally, patients could also filter what they hear from their doctor in a variety of ways that physicians may not be aware (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 may need to 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 starts taking 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.  In some cases, the patient either may not hear these instructions or the doctor assumes the nurse told the patient and the nurse assumes the doctor told the patient. As a result, the patient may eat and then have their blood drawn.  In this case, the test result comes back indicating the patient has high cholesterol, high blood sugar or high triglycerides and the patient is needlessly put on medication… all because they ate by accident before the blood test.  Communication breakdown: patient takes medication they do not need.

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.

With the prevalence of smartphones, now almost everyone has an audio recorder on their phone. On the iPhone, you can use Voice Memos, and most Android phones have a recording app built in as well.

After your doctor visit, you can go back and listen to the conversation with your doctor and even email a copy of the conversation to a family member.

We recommend you always 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, most physicians are used to that dynamic.

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