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Can I stop a patient recording our consultation?

Three experts advise a GP on how to deal with a difficult patient who states they want to record their appointment

A patient starts an appointment by asking to record the consultation. The patient is notoriously difficult and I’m worried what they might do with the recording. Can I refuse their request? And what can I do if they record it covertly? 

Professor Azeem Majeed: You can’t say no but you can ask why

Patients have the right to record their consultations with doctors. They can even record a consultation without a doctor’s consent, because the information they are recording is personal to them and is thus exempt from the data protection principles in the Data Protection Act. Therefore you can’t decline the patient’s request to record their consultation. 

But you can ask them to explain why they wish to do so. There may an innocent explanation – for example, the patient finds it difficult to understand and retain the information they receive during a consultation and wants to be able to listen again later. If you think that being recorded could affect your performance during the consultation, you could try to convince the patient not to make a recording.

But the bottom line is that you can’t decline the patient’s request if they insist. With the ubiquity of smartphones, many patients will now have the ability to make an audio or video recording of their consultations. If a consultation is carried out in a professional manner, then there shouldn’t be any medicolegal issues that arise from the consultation being recorded.

If you continue to be anxious about being recorded, you can seek advice from your defence body. But they are likely to confirm that the patient has the right to record their consultation and that this would be better done openly and with your consent, rather than the patient trying to make a covert recording without your knowledge.

Professor Azeem Majeed is a GP in Lambeth and head of the primary care and public health department at Imperial College London

Dr Rachel Birch: Don’t refuse, but ask for a copy

It is becoming commonplace for patients to ask to record consultations. If you feel uncomfortable at the prospect, you should express that concern and tell the patient that you would prefer them not to. Be open to discussing the reasons why they wish to have a recording to allay the feelings of mistrust that may arise on both sides.

If a patient insists on recording the consultation, it is inadvisable to refuse to proceed with the consultation. You have a duty to act in their best interests, to assess their condition, and offer any necessary treatment or advice. Conduct the consultation as you normally would to avoid making it more challenging and increasing the possibility of error.

The content of the recording forms part of the patient’s clinical information and is confidential to them, not you. Therefore, the patient could disclose it to third parties, or even use it as evidence for a complaint. Ask for a complete copy of any recordings and keep it in their medical records.

There is no recourse if you are secretly recorded, but you may wish to raise this with the patient at the next consultation and let them know they can be open in stating they wish to record the consultation.

Some doctors actively tape their own consultations (with the patient’s consent) as doing so provides the most accurate, contemporaneous record. Additionally, patient recordings could assist you if the consultation becomes the subject of a claim or complaint. If you act in a professional manner, there should be no reason to fear being recorded.

Dr Rachel Birch is a medicolegal adviser at the Medical Protection Society

Dr Peter Swinyard: Let patients record; there should be nothing to fear

If a patient wishes to record my every word, they are welcome. Most people put their smartphones on my desk anyway. I never know if the microphone is turned on, and I am always prepared to defend anything I say in consultation, perhaps with the exception of some of my execrable jokes.

If someone records a conversation covertly, you often won’t know about it, so there is nothing to be done. Often, the only way it is brought to your attention is if the patient returns with the recording and says something rude about it. While you can challenge the politeness of someone recording without your consent, there are no sanctions you can take, though it does erode the trust implicit in a good doctor-patient relationship.

Hopefully if someone records the consultation, it is because they want to make sure they get the maximum they can out of the conversation. It is perhaps bad manners from the patient, but if you behave properly there is nothing to fear.

Already all our phone calls with patients are automatically recorded and kept, and patients are warned of this on the website and by a ‘robowoman’ who answers before they get to speak to a real human. So how is recording a face-to-face consultation any different?

Often, if the phone call gets heated, reminding a patient that it is being recorded actually defuses the situation.

Dr Peter Swinyard is a GP in Swindon, Wiltshire, and chair of the Family Doctor Association

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Readers' comments (51)

  • Sorry, I don't agree with any of you!
    I would refuse this and say because it makes me feel uncomfortable and I am very puzzled as to what agenda the patient has, that they will not do this in my surgery
    Consultation finished!

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  • With the greatest respect Dr Majeed, I disagree with you, and both the other contributors too.
    I simply don't care what the GMC or MDU etc say, it is my consultation in my office and if this makes me uncomfortable I will not allow it.
    Any patient wanting to tape a doctor is clearly wanting to trip them up.
    Contributors like Dr Majeed being so completely measured in everything they write in Pulse makes me wonder if they are actually human;
    I will not take advice from a succession of yes people, and never have
    GPs can show human emotion such as anger and frustration, you know - it is allowed!

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  • Unfortunately three contributors are correct as far as our (as in clinician) rights are concerned.

    It begs the question on where we as a nation though. Personally, if they have a valid reason (as listed above) and asked in open manner, fair enough. I cannot see how we could continue to have a reasonable doctor-patient relationship if it is used for any other reason (e.g. shown to third part, recorded in case they need to make a claim etc). At this point we can surely ask pt to de-register as breakdon of doctor patient relationship?

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  • Perhaps the dr- patient relationship has already broken down with the wish to record in the first place.

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  • Patients have the right to record us in our offices. Bar in emerencies, we have the right to not see a patients. Simples.

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  • what awful advice from all of these contributors.

    The GMC makes it clear that you should not look after patients and make medical decisions if you feel your ability to do so is impaired for whatever reason - health, alcohol etc.

    Well when I am recorded I can definitely say I would not be able to perform at the same standard as I would normally do. That is my assessment of the situation.

    All the above "find out about patient agenda" guff is oversensitive RCGP rubbish and it wont change how I would proceed - or not proceed.

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  • Azeem Majeed

    In contrast to the previous comments, I thought this article was fine and gave a clear explanation of the legal position. I did though write one of the answers to the question and so I am not a neutral observer.

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  • paranoid or what!.relax people are interested in what is being said

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  • It is not illegal to record conversation between two people.
    It might be a problem if it is passed to a third party without the consent of both.
    It might be sensible just to tell the patient "I do not want you to share this recording with anyone else without my consent..."and then not give it.
    If the recording is done secretly and the divulged to a third party without your consent remember the maxim - he who comes to equity should do so with clean hands.
    Clearly doing things right is probably best.
    ?is this right you probably need to speak to a lawyer?

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  • Oh dear oh dear
    One more example of cowtowwing to the lunatic fringe
    What about our rights
    I guaranty that 50% of consultations are not perfect in every way ( and what about the ridiculous time frame in real life GP land)
    I would refuse and forget the amateur lawyer RCGP pullover touchy feely wine brewing nutters
    I bet every judge in the land would decide this crap is not fair on GP's

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