Intended for healthcare professionals

Observations Patient Power

“Patientgate”—digital recordings change everything

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 11 March 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g2078
  1. Glyn Elwyn
  1. 1Dartmouth Center for Health Care Delivery Science, Hanover, New Hampshire 03755
  1. glynelwyn{at}

Patients’ recordings of consultations are a valuable addition to the medical evidence base

It’s 8.30 am, just before clinic opens. It is 2010. Dr Byte checks an online forum, and something catches his eye.

A female patient is complaining about a doctor. Her posting has led to strident reactions from other doctors. Patients are taking her side. It looks ugly.

It turns out that the patient had asked her family doctor whether she could use her smartphone to record the encounter. Her doctor was apparently taken aback and had paused to gather his thoughts. He asked the patient to put her smartphone away, saying that it was not the policy of the clinic to allow patients to take recordings. The patient described how the mood of the meeting shifted. Initially jovial, the doctor had become defensive. She complied and turned off her smartphone.

The patient wrote that as soon as the smartphone was turned off the doctor raised his voice and berated her for making the request, saying that the use of a recording device would betray the fundamental trust that is the basis of a good patient-doctor relationship. The patient wrote that she tried to reason, explaining that the recording would be useful to her and her family. But the doctor shouted at her, asking her to leave immediately and find …

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