Caution urged for doctors when recording patients

DOCTORS who plan to make recordings of patients have a duty to get consent first, according to updated GMC guidance.

Making and using visual and audio recordings of patients warns that secretly recording patients is “rarely justified” and should only be considered with specific authorisation from the courts. Making these types of audio or visual recordings should only be done to detect a serious crime or to protect someone from harm, such as in cases of child abuse.

The guidance emphasises that doctors who want to make visual or audio recordings of patients for any purpose must respect their privacy and dignity and get consent first. This applies to recordings made for treatment, research, education or public media.

The availability of digital recording equipment means that making images of patients is becoming easier, the regulator said. It adds that TV and radio production teams who record patients should be made aware of the revised guidance. Doctors who are involved in recording patients for broadcast should ensure consent has been given, even if they are not in control of the recording process.

The guidance, which comes into effect on May 9, 2011, is in line with all relevant legislation that has come into force across the UK since the previous guidance was published in 2002. It makes clear that doctors must not make recordings of patients who lack capacity to give consent unless it is in their best interests or of benefit to them. There are also sections regarding respecting patients’ wishes after death, recording phone calls and storing and disposing of recordings.

Ros Levenson, Chair of the GMC's Standards and Ethics Committee, said: "Doctors often face a number of dilemmas when making recordings of patients and it can be difficult to strike a balance between supporting training, education and research and protecting the best interests of their patients. The increase in using new technologies, such as camera phones and webcasts, can make this even more challenging. This revised guidance should help them make the right decisions."

The guidance can be accessed here.

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