Over the years, cell phones have evolved from purse-size behemoths to the size of a wristwatch. In addition, they have moved from basically a portable telephone to the smartphones of today. Both the changes in size and the added functions have resulted in new concerns for physicians.
“We had a family meeting about two years ago to discuss a patient, and I noticed someone was recording the conversation on their iPhone without asking me if it was okay,” says Ali Seifi, MD, FACP, assistant professor of neurosurgery/neurocritical care at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA). “I wasn’t sure if it was legal for the family to be recording these discussions about the patient. I also did not know if I could ask them to get my permission first.”
Smartphone Ownership Growth
These concerns are only going to grow. A fact sheet issued by the Pew Research Center in 2014 notes that 58% of Americans owned a smartphone and that level rose to 83% among young adults. These can be used as recording devices at the touch of a button. Smart watches can make a surreptitious recording of conversations even less noticeable.1
“With smartphones being in the hands of almost everybody, it is becoming more likely that someone is going to secretly record our interactions,” notes Dr. Seifi. “Medical professionals have to start thinking about the ethical and legal aspects of this.”
To try to stimulate conversations on these issues, Dr. Seifi joined with Michelle Rodriguez, JD, and a medical school student at UTHSCSA, and Jason Morrow, MD, PhD, from the school’s Center for Medical Ethics and Humanities, to look at these questions. The result was a Viewpoint article in the April 28, 2015, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.2
Decision on Taping Difficult for Doctors
There are probably as many opinions on patient recording in general, and surreptitious recordings in particular, as there are practitioners. It is a personal decision.
“I would feel very uncomfortable if my patient taped our conversations without asking me,” says Jonathan Hausmann, MD, a fellow in rheumatology at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. “I would not want to unknowingly be recorded by my friends or by anybody else. I think we all have a right to privacy, and I don’t want anyone to record me unless I give permission. Patients are no different.”