Patients wanting to record consultations

What should you do if a patient wants to record a consultation, overtly or covertly?

  • Most patients now have the ability to record a consultation.
  • Recording a consultation has some advantages for doctors and patients.

Some patients may want to record a consultation and watch or listen back to it later, to make sure they don't miss anything important. A study from 2003 suggested patients immediately forget between 40 and 80% of the medical information provided by their doctor, and almost half the information they do recall is incorrect.

Patients who understand the risks and benefits of the different treatment options are usually able to make an informed decision about the treatment they want, which makes life easier for them and for doctors.

Covert recordings

The GMC expects doctors to obtain patients' consent to make a visual or audio recording, and to only make covert recordings with appropriate legal authorisation, "where there is no other way of obtaining information which is necessary to investigate or prosecute a serious crime, or to protect someone from serious harm".

Patients, however, do not need doctors' permission to record a consultation. The information they are recording is personal to them and therefore exempt from data protection principles. As the Information Commissioner's Office states on its website, "personal data processed in the course of a purely personal or household activity, with no connection to a professional or commercial activity, is outside the GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation]'s scope."

Covert recording by a patient might be upsetting for the doctor involved, but if you act in a professional manner at all times then it should not really pose a problem.

Your duty of care also means you would not be justified in refusing to continue treating the patient. If you did, it could further damage your relationship with the patient - and remember that your refusal to continue with the consultation could be recorded.

MDU advice

A more pragmatic response would be invite the patient to record the consultation openly and ask them if you can have a copy of the recording, which can then become part of the patient's own medical records.

In seeking their consent to this, you should reassure them that the recording will be stored securely by the practice and only used for this purpose.

  • Don't assume the worst if a patient tries to record your consultation.
  • Don't assume they are trying to catch you out.
  • Don't assume a complaint or claim will inevitably follow.

If you're concerned the patient's actions are a sign they don't trust you, you may want to discuss this with them. But remember, recording a consultation is not itself enough of a reason to end your professional relationship with a patient.

Finally, bear in mind that while recordings (even those made covertly) can be admitted as evidence of wrongdoing by the GMC - and in court, they can also prove the opposite. If you have acted ethically and professionally, you should have no reason to worry.

For more information on recording consultations, see our related article in the MDU journal.

This guidance was correct at publication 03/04/2020. It is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.

You may also be interested in

Guide

Fit notes

A quick guide on issuing fit notes to patients who have been off sick and your requirements.

Read more
Guide

Consent and young patients

Assessing the best interests of children who are too young to make decisions for themselves is complex.

Read more
Guide

How to respond to a complaint

Writing a good response is a crucial part of successfully resolving a complaint.

Read more