Secret patient recordings – are they legal?

A piece from caught my eye this morning:

Dentists are warned that the law offers little or no protection from patients covertly recording consultations.

Patients are within their rights to record consultations and could use the information obtained to challenge their dentist’s actions.

‘Dentists would be cautioned against covertly recording patients’

The increasing use of smart phones makes it easier for patients wishing to secretly record a dental appointment and UK-wide dental defence organisation MDDUS advises dentists to keep clear, comprehensive and accurate records of consultations so they can justify their actions in court if necessary.

MDDUS dental adviser Rachael Bell said: ‘A dentist might think that a patient would require their permission to record a consultation and that any recording made covertly was illegal.’

‘However, this is not the case. When a patient seeks a consultation with a dentist, the information being processed is almost exclusively relating to the patient. Under the Data Protection Act, that data is therefore personal to the patient. By recording it, that patient is merely viewed as processing their own data.’


Is that also true in the U.S.?  In at least some cases, the answer appears to be yes.

Depending on your motivation for recording a consultation, it’s usually advisable to just ask or inform the doctor that you want to record or will be recording. Sometimes there are very good reasons to record that have nothing to do with litigation or distrust.  As one example, I always recommended that one particular patient tell all of his doctors that he would be recording his appointments with them. His memory was so severely impaired that recording the consultations enabled him to go home and review the tape as many times as he needed to so that he could follow through on their advice or so that he could remember their answers to questions he asked them.  Similarly, if you have an elderly parent who may get forgetful when feeling stressed, having a recording of the doctor’s advice to them may be very helpful in assisting them with treatment compliance.

Bottom line: if your intentions are care-related, try talking with the doctor about recording instead of doing it covertly.  And if your intentions are litigious, well, talk to a lawyer.

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  1. Anonymous - May 15, 2012

    One thing is to consider states that have “two-party” recording laws, such that each party in a conversation have to agree to be recorded:

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