The Rise of Recording Conversations with Doctors: Rights, Guidelines, and Recommendations

Recently, a growing trend of people recording their conversations with doctors has been growing. The question arises: is it allowed or not? While it is not prohibited, there is a thin line regarding the patient or their relative infringing upon the doctor’s rights. To address this issue, the Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the ombudsman’s office, is preparing guidelines to determine the circumstances under which recording on hospital premises is permissible. Josef Pavlovic, the Deputy Minister of Health for the Pirate Party, confirmed this.

The initiative was prompted by the increasing number of cases where individuals seek clarification on the legitimacy of such recordings, often turning to the public defender of rights. There is significant disagreement among healthcare providers regarding this matter. The upcoming guidelines aim to provide clarity on the situations where recording is tolerable and where it is not. Additionally, the guidelines will outline model examples of confrontational situations. It is worth noting that recording without the other party’s consent is addressed by the Civil Code, which permits recording if it serves as evidence in a legal proceeding.

For instance, recording is permissible when it substantiates a valid complaint. However, if someone records another person and subsequently publishes the recording on platforms like Facebook, it encroaches upon that person’s privacy rights, as Pavlovic explained.

The methodology is expected to clarify contentious issues and consider current jurisprudence. The ministry is currently researching relevant cases, and the guidelines could be finalized within a few months.

Petra Langova, the founder of the Juno Moneta Association, which oversees the protection of patient rights, recommends recording in hospitals. Over her twelve years of work in patient rights advocacy, Langova has found that without recordings, 90% of rights violations remain unsubstantiated and end up as “he said, she said” situations.

Unrecorded conversations in such situations often further escalate the conflicts between patients and healthcare providers, according to Marketa Bockova, a spokesperson for the ombudsman.

Insufficient patient education regarding the risks of medical procedures, where patients are required to sign documents acknowledging that they have been informed, as well as unethical remarks and requests for bribes, are among the most pressing issues, added Bockova.

Several controversial cases have recently come to light. One such case involved a video on social media showing an emotionally charged confrontation between a mother and a treating doctor in a hospital, debating whether the mother could stay with her child. Another case from two years ago involved a man recording hospital staff in a COVID ward where his mother was hospitalized and even ended up in court.

According to Bockova, recordings in hospitals have become a recent phenomenon. The public defender of rights frequently encounters cases where patients record conflicts with healthcare professionals on their mobile phones. The handling of such recordings by authorities varies, including cases of refusal.

The ombudsman has long held that recordings are legally admissible and should be critically examined by authorities. Recordings should not be dismissed solely because they were made without the consent of the recorded person. Efforts are being made to foster desired practices among administrative bodies and healthcare providers through informative presentations, stated Bockova.

“Currently, it is the only evidence available,” said Klara Laurencikova, the Commissioner for Human Rights. Parents of sick children, for example, may feel safer when they have recordings as evidence, allowing them to defend their position in case of a complaint, thus avoiding dismissing their claims due to conflicting statements. Laurencikova also emphasized the need for regular training of medical personnel in handling everyday situations during their university studies.

The ministry is already working on this matter with the 3rd Faculty of Medicine at Charles University. A pilot project for an optional subject called “Patient-centered Care” is being developed, where medical students will learn how to communicate with patients with the assistance of patient organizations. If successful, this subject could be expanded to other medical faculties.

Collaboration between healthcare professionals and patient organizations currently lags for various reasons, mainly a lack of information. The subject’s content will be refined based on experience, explained David Marx, Vice-Dean for Studies and Education at the 3rd Faculty of Medicine at Charles University.