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Can I record what my doctor says?

Edited By: Joy Jiang

 

You’ve gone to a doctor’s appointment or the walk-in-clinic, received a ton of instructions, and maybe even walked out with a prescription. Only, once you get home, you realize that you have absolutely no idea what the doctor told you to do, despite having been at the appointment only a half hour earlier. Has this ever happened to you? I know that feeling well!

Physicians only spend a few minutes with you, and this is usually too short to keep up with all the information. With the rise in smartphone use, patients have begun recording their doctor’s visits so that they can remember what was said after they go home. This practice has become especially important for those who are receiving life-changing diagnoses and treatments. But, of course, as with any new issue that arises with the adoption of new technologies, this has come with a bunch of ethical and legal questions that mostly ask; do you have the right to record your clinic visit?

The Legal Side to Recording

In Canada, you are legally allowed to record a conversation that you’re a part of with or without that person’s knowledge. However, recording in a public place, such as the waiting room, could get you into trouble because that could violate the privacy of other patients. You should also avoid posting any of the recordings you take online, because if the other person is identifiable, that could get you in trouble, too.

This issue has already reached court, like the case in 2017 where the judge ruled in favour of the physician who was recorded secretly by a patient. The ruling said that the physician “may have conducted his examination a different way [if he knew he was being recorded]”.  

If you do choose to take a recording with the doctor’s knowledge, most will now ask for a copy to add to your medical record. This ensures that the most accurate information about the visit is kept and that both parties are aware of what was (and wasn’t) actually said.

The Ethics of Recording

So even though you can record your doctor, is it right to record the visit in secret? Many physician and patients say ‘no’. There is trust required for a doctor-patient relationship to work, and many feel that this trust can be broken if there are secret recordings being taken.

Importantly, losing the trust between you and your doctor can affect the quality of care you receive. Even if you haven’t used your recording against the physician, if they find out that you have been keeping track of your conversations in secret, this can affect the level of personalized care they provide.

Dr. Dennis Desai from the Canadian Medical Protective Association told the CBC that “once you breach that trust, you affect the care that the family doctor can provide. Because they’re always wondering, ‘Are you just recording me? What are you doing? Don’t you trust me?’”.

So, wait, can I record my clinic visit or not?

You can record your visit but you shouldn’t do it secretly.

Even though you won’t get in trouble with the law for doing so, just letting your doctor know that you are recording them to remember their step-by-step instructions can go a long way. The result will be greater trust between you two and, consequently, improved quality of care.

As this issue continues to be debated, you can expect to see policies regarding recording clinic visits to start popping up at your local doctor and walk-in-clinic offices. These will likely put in place strict guidelines on what’s acceptable at that particular location. For example, they may completely ban recording visits, or the physician may offer to leave a few minutes at the end of the visit where they can be recorded. 

This is an issue that is far from being resolved, and as more innovative technologies are created, it will open up this conversation again, and again. As for now, use your judgment, maintain open communication and advocate for yourself to receive the best quality of medical care you can. If you’re someone that forgets everything the minute you walk out of the clinic, consider writing everything down, asking the physician for an electronic copy of their notes or maybe even asking them to record it.

 

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I study neuroscience at U of T and in my free time you can find me writing, surrounded by good friends, reading ethnographies and eating alfajores.
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