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Patients in the United Kingdom and United States are increasingly taking their smart phones out of their pockets, placing them on doctors’ desks and pressing record during medical consultations.

Even more are secretly recording their visits.

Laws vary according to national and State jurisdictions, but generally in those countries patients have the right to record clinical visits while doctors also have the right to terminate consultations if they don’t want them recorded.

According to a research paper recently published in the American Medical Association’s medical journal JAMA, the growing practice should not necessarily be a concern.

Some health clinics even offer patients recordings of their visits.

“Many clinicians and clinics have concerns about the ownership of recordings and the potential for these to be used as a basis for legal claims or complaints,” the authors noted.

“Administrators and patients are unclear about the law and are concerned that recording clinical encounters might be illegal, especially if done covertly. The law is inconsistent: recording is allowed in certain situations and is illegal in others.”

The research found, however, that for most patients wishing to record consultations, the motivation was reasonable.

“Patients want a recording to listen to again, improve their recall and understanding of medical information, and share the information with family members,” the report says.

“As healthcare continues to make significant strides toward transparency, the next step is to embrace the value of recording clinical encounters.

“The clinician can choose to continue, accepting that the conversation is being recorded, or terminate the visit.

“Using the recording to harm or damage the reputation of the clinician recorded could lead to legal action.”

A survey conducted among the general public in the UK found that 19 of 128 respondents (15 per cent) indicated they had secretly recorded a clinical visit, and 14 of 128 respondents (11 per cent) were aware of someone covertly recording a clinic visit.

A subsequent review identified 33 studies of how patients used recordings of their clinical visits. Across the studies, 72 per cent of patients listened to their recordings and 68 per cent shared them with caregivers.

Patients who recorded their consultations reported greater understanding and recall of medical information.

In parts of the US, clinicians as well as patients report benefits in having sessions recorded. Liability insurers in America even insist that the presence of a recording can protect doctors.