Recording patient consultations about consent could avoid litigation 

Routinely recording consultations when obtaining consent for treatment could help patients retain the information and potentially cut the risk of clinical negligence claims.

The process of getting consent has become increasingly scrutinised as treatments get more complex, but cases where a recording was made have helped to investigate and resolve claims against doctors, according to the Medical Defence Union (MDU).

Writing in the latest MDU journal, a consultant argues there is a compelling case for recording consent discussions and sharing these with patients. 

Dr Michael Quin

Dr Michael Quinn, a consultant in acute medicine and nephrology at Belfast Trust, explains the benefits for both doctors and patients:

‘An increasingly frequent complaint is that a patient wasn’t properly warned about a ‘material risk’ that would have affected their decision-making. Since the 2015 Montgomery judgment doctors are expected to disclose any risk to which a reasonable person in the patient’s position would attach significance. 

‘We know up to 80% of what gets said during a consultation can be forgotten when the patient goes out the door, and if we say anything scary it can stop the patient taking in the rest of it. With a recording, patients can go back and hear what was said or ask a family member to do so for them.

‘It may feel strange at the outset and there are barriers, such as privacy concerns, but we’ve all got a lot to gain from recording consultations.’

Civica Medical Billing

Dr Quinn, who is also a clinical lecturer in medical informatics at Queens University Belfast, said his GP wife had experienced occasions where a recording protected her after a concern was raised about a phone consultation.

He added: ‘We might worry about the level of scrutiny, but in the vast majority of circumstances, it will show we’ve done the right thing.’

Dr Michael Devlin

Dr Michael Devlin, MDU head of professional standards and liaison, said: ‘Informed consent is about a dialogue, which explores a patient’s understanding and needs. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to making sure consent is truly informed.

‘There may be some anxiety about technology intruding into the consultation itself, but where patients are better informed as a result of it and doctors have a more complete record of what was discussed, then it could be genuinely better for everyone.’

Dr Quinn jointly founded a start-up technology company, Round Safely, with the idea of recording ward rounds, clinic visits and interactions using audio and video technology, and sharing these with patients and their families, as well as for training purposes.