Over the years, cell phones have evolved from purse-size behemoths to devices the size of a wristwatch. At the same time, they have advanced from what amounted to a portable telephone to the smartphones of today. Both the changes in size and the added functions have resulted in new concerns for physicians.
Explore This IssueMay 2016
“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,” said Ali Seifi, MD, 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 noted that 58% of Americans owned a smartphone—and 83% of young adults. These can be used as recording devices at the touch of a button. Smart watches can make surreptitious recordings of conversations even less noticeable (Mobile Technology Fact Sheet, Pew Research Center, October 2014).1
“With smartphones being in the hands of almost everybody, it is becoming more likely that someone is going to secretly record our interactions,” noted 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, a medical school student at UTHSCSA, and Jason Morrow, MD, PhD, from the school’s Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics, to look at these questions. The result was a Viewpoint article published in a 2015 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (2015;313:1615–1616.)
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 that is often based on the patients in front of them.
“One of our physicians had an elderly cancer patient who wanted to record the visit, and the doctor thought that was fine because of the large amount of information being covered,” said Kevin Watson, practice administrator at Colorado ENT and Allergy in Colorado Springs. “For those with more straightforward cases, it seems like the relationship is not getting off on the right foot. While the patient may have the best of intentions, the question may still remain whether they are really looking for evidence of malpractice.”