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GMC urges against covert recording of patients

Guidelines set out duties when making and using recordings of patients

Mark Gould

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

New GMC guidance on the making and using of audio or visual recordings of patients makes it clear that covert recording is “rarely justified” and should only be considered with specific authorisation from the courts.

The GMC stresses that doctors have a duty to get consent in advance of making recordings for any purpose, including treatment, research, education or public media.

It also says that TV and radio production teams who record patients should also be aware of the revised guidance, as doctors involved in a programme have a duty to make sure patients' rights to privacy and confidentiality are properly protected and be satisfied that consent has been obtained in accordance with the guidance.

The availability of digital recording equipment means that making images of patients is becoming easier and will bring benefits for teaching and research. But the GMC says making images and recordings of patients can raise complex legal and ethical issues, however.

Reflecting mental capacity legislation, the updated guidance 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.

The revised guidance is in line with all relevant legislation that has come into force across the UK since the previous guidance was published in 2002.

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."

Commenting on the new guidelines Dr Sally Old, medico-legal advisor with the Medical Defence Union, said that when seeking consent to record as part of a patient’s care doctors should explain why it is needed, how it may be used and stored and that it may be used in anonymised form for teaching, research or other healthcare purposes without their further consent. Doctors should make a note of the discussion in the patient’s records.

“If patients lack capacity, you must obtain consent from someone with legal authority for recordings which form part of clinical care.

For other recordings, you and the person with legal authority should be satisfied the recording is necessary, in the patient’s best interests and that the purpose cannot be achieved another way. There are some exceptions, such as for clinical research, and doctors should seek further advice in these circumstances.”

She also advises caution about agreeing to take part in television or radio programmes involving patients, or to appear in print or on the internet. “As well as satisfying yourself that the patients have given their consent, you should check they understand the implications and be prepared to raise concerns and even withdraw your cooperation if you believe the recording is unduly intrusive or damaging to them,” she said.

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