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Patients Are Recording Their Doctor's Visits. But Should They?


Data privacy and cybersecurity are important concerns, but the practice could “transform healthcare.”

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Healthcare has many privacy and cybersecurity issues born of its own practices. But patients, it turns out, might be further jeopardizing the sanctity of their protected health information (PHI) thanks to their growing desire to digitally record their doctor’s visits, according to a new paper published in The BMJ.

Even so, the authors—Dartmouth Institute researchers Glyn Elwyn, MD, and Paul Barr, PhD, and patient co-author Sheri Piper—detail how smartphone recordings might benefit patients and even “transform medicine,” a theme so pedestaled that it appears in the paper’s title. The key, they note, is that governments and healthcare organizations must craft cutting-edge policies governing the collection, management, and storage of such data.

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“In the advent of powerful artificial intelligence (AI), the broad implementation of audio recording in healthcare could greatly benefit both patients and clinicians,” the authors write, “but risks also exist, and clear principles to guide the collection and use of recordings must be established from the outset.”

Action is imperative because the number of people who record their interactions with healthcare professionals is likely to rise, according to the authors. As of now, at least 1 in every 10 patients has recorded a doctor’s visit, the paper notes.

The team claims the act will become a cornerstone of medicine, especially as the technology matures. What’s more, solid digital recordings may reduce physician burnout, a scourge often attributed, at least in part, to the tedious nature of electronic medical redcords.

“A simple cellphone recording enables a patient to better remember important information or to share it with family members,” Elwyn says, “but ‘next-generation’ professionally produced recordings can be used to develop and further patient and family engagement, shared decision making, education, and research.”

But only some healthcare organizations have moved to develop and enshrine protective, forward-thinking policies. For example, the trio points to a Michigan-based family physician, James Ryan, MD, who offers to record patient encounters, using a tagging system to more easily access particular moments in the conversation. The authors also applauded a neurological institute that posts video recordings on a secure website available only to patients.

The problem is, patient data is valuable, selling for impressive sums on deep web black markets, and legitimate companies have also shown great interest in gobbling up healthcare information.

The conversation surrounding the security of PHI often revolves around how healthcare organizations and associated institutions handle the sensitive data. Although this commentary extends that to the patient, it keeps the discussion centered on the macro level, arguing for a system similar to banking records and wresting with the landmines that private companies might bury if given power over this information.

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