Like many proactive patients, you might already bring pen and paper to your doctors’ appointments so you can take notes.
But in this post I’m going to make a more radical suggestion: that you record your doctors’ appointments instead.
My reason for suggesting that patients record their appointments is based both on scientific principles and on my medical humanist practice, in which I documented countless patients’ understanding (and misunderstanding!) of their diagnosis and treatment options for the medical record as a means of facilitating communication with their care providers.
Brain scans reveal that people’s immediate reaction to upsetting or threatening news takes place within the primitive limbic lobe of the brain, which guides one’s deepest instincts and emotions. This means that the intense emotions experienced at the moment of hearing bad news tend to overwhelm our capacity to process things logically or intellectually. Maybe this is why patients have so often told me that they have trouble understanding information during appointments. “You hear what the doctor is saying but you don’t comprehend,” as one patient explained it. Another patient, who was working as a nurse at the time of her diagnosis, admitted with reluctance that despite being familiar with medical terms, following her diagnosis she needed “a translator” at her appointments.
Bringing a tape recorder—or simply using the “record” function on many smartphones–allows patients to replay the conversation later and write down their questions and concerns. I’ve witnessed how helpful it is for doctors when patients come prepared with a list of specific questions, which can help communicate exactly what they do and don’t understand, and what sort of information they are prepared to hear.
How have patients responded to my suggestion that they record their visit? “I hadn’t thought of that!” is frequently what I hear.
On the heels of their surprise often comes a fear of how their doctor might react to being recorded. In an email conversation, a patient with whom I had been consulting asked for my advice as to how best to bring this up with her doctor. I suggested she say something along the following lines:
“As I anticipated our visit I was prepared to come with pen and paper but then I could see myself overwhelmed by the information and unable to write down all that I would need to know to make the right decisions for myself. For that reason alone I would like to record our meeting with you so I will have the opportunity to re-visit our conversation—word for word—and identify what questions and concerns my husband and I may have. I think using a recorder will help us communicate more openly.”
Asking to record appointments is a way to signal that you are committed to being an active and informed participant in your own care. It’s also a good reminder to your doctor that medical terms may represent a foreign language to you.
In my years of fieldwork as a medical humanist, I observed that most doctors welcomed the chance to work with patients who were taking steps to fully understand their diagnosis and treatment options–and recording appointments can be one such step. But I’ll admit, I’m curious about the experiences other doctors and patients have had with this, if any.
Doctors, have you had patients ask to record appointments? What are your feelings about being recorded? Patients, have you either recorded appointments or else had a doctor ask you not to?
I’d be interested to know more about who is doing this and how doctors have been reacting.
To comment on my latest blog post (May 2015) click here – To Record or Not to Record, That Is the Question