Your Office Is Being Recorded

Mark Crane, BA


April 03, 2018

In This Article

When Recordings Have a Positive Effect

"I gave a talk, and a physician in the audience told me this personal story about a recording that had quite an impact," said Richard Boothman, JD, chief risk officer at the University of Michigan Medical School. "His wife was unexpectedly diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer, an insidious form of cancer that is treatable when found early but typically reveals itself very late."

"The day his wife was diagnosed, she was referred to a surgeon who managed to see them right away," Boothman continued. The couple was reeling from the news with a mix of anger at why it wasn't diagnosed earlier, a sense of guilt that they didn't pursue early symptoms aggressively enough, and lots more. The surgeon entered the room with a small tape recorder and asked if he could record the conversation. The physician-husband thought to himself, 'Great, now this guy is covering his ass!'"

"But at the end of the very emotional conversation, the surgeon stood up, handed the recorder and tape to the patient, and said, "You've had a lot thrown at you today. I'm sure you didn't absorb everything we talked about. Take this home and play it over, play it for family and friends—anyone you might look to for help getting through this. And here's my home phone [number]. Call if you have any questions. Otherwise, I'll see you on Thursday for your surgery. No matter what, I'll be there to see you through this."

"The physician-husband said that no matter what happened at surgery, no matter what happened to his wife, they were so grateful for this surgeon's compassion and commitment to them that they would never think of complaining or suing," Boothman concluded. "His wife died not long after her surgery, but the husband will never forget that surgeon's compassion and understanding."

The Upside of Recordings

"Few who are fearful of this recording ever consider the upside of it," Boothman said. "As human beings, we tend to anticipate the worst and often do not consider the positive aspects of something like this. It's too bad, because I believe it can be a very powerful tool to cement the patient/physician relationship and the patient's understanding of the clinical messages and information. Physicians are significantly benefited by an informed patient. If a patient feels that recording their conversations will help, I'm completely supportive."

Boothman has had instances where patients secretly recorded risk management meetings. "It's best to handle the issue up front. I said, 'If you want to record this conversation, by all means record it. Just know that recording it may cause everyone here to be more careful with everything they say. If your goal is just a frank, open, and unguarded conversation, recording it could get in the way. As an alternative, I will follow up our conversation with a written summary of it if that helps you. That way, we could be less guarded as we talk, but you'll also have the conversation distilled in writing shortly after we meet.'"

"Unless there is some controversy surrounding the patient (such as a threatening patient, a chronically noncompliant patient, or possible drug-seeking behavior), I cannot understand why any physician would balk at the patient's request," Boothman said. "Normally, physicians' advice is standardized enough that they should not be concerned about helping a patient memorialize their advice."

Boothman continued, "I've known physicians who allow their opinions about other physicians to leak into their remarks to their patients, physicians who are less than disciplined about comments on their own hospital, et cetera. Those physicians could easily create problems for themselves if those comments were recorded. Recording should cause any caregiver to mind their professionalism and be disciplined in their remarks to their patients."


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