Should You Record Your Medical Appointments?

By Barby Ingle, Columnist

My memory troubles started soon after developing Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy in 2002. “Brain fog” or “pain brain” is a common symptom of RSD, fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions. Our brains have trouble focusing on short term memories and storing them for easy recall.

Even now, in a semi-state of remission, I have trouble saying the right words at the right time or remembering if I have seen a movie before. To help my memory and keep appointments, I started keeping a “to do” list and using a color-coded calendar and a medication dispensing system. I also made a habit of recording phone calls and conversations with my healthcare providers.

I’m not alone. According to a recent JAMA article, about 15% of patients in the UK secretly record their medical visits, often using their smartphones. I have been recording since 2003, after I realized that my memory was weak and that I needed assistance to better comply with my care between appointments.

How many times have you hung up the phone and your spouse asked, “Who was that? What did they need?” Or they came home from work and asked, “What did the doctor say?” or “What did you do today?”

And you can’t answer.

Before you think, “Oh, Barby must have been high on her pain medication,” that for me is a big fat NOPE. It happened to me when I was not on any medications. It is a symptom of my medical condition, not a symptom of the medications I take. For some patients on other medications that may be a problem, but it only adds to the already challenged mind of someone with chronic pain or traumatic brain injuries. The worse the pain gets, the worse their memory gets.

While you're talking, you think, “Oh, this is important, I will remember this.” Yet, you don’t. You can’t recall what you had for breakfast or when you last took your medication, let alone the intricacies of a doctor appointment.

Studies show that recording medical appointments reduces malpractice claims and leads to better understanding from patients on what their care is and why. This leads to better patient compliance and engagement in their own health outcomes.

The University of Texas Medical Branch is promoting patient recording of their visits. They tell patients it is an open policy that is there to protect them and their providers. Check out the video they created: 

Is It Legal?

I live in a state where recording a conversation only has to be known by one party. But if you are in New York or California, you have to inform and get permission from all those who may be recorded in advance.

Sometimes I record in secrecy, but most times I have my husband or sister record the appointment -- and it is quite clear what they are doing. In 15 years of doing this, I have only had one doctor ever ask me to erase the recording. That was because he had other providers in the room examining me and he talked about proprietary information that didn’t have to do with my medical condition.

I know that when I am under stress or have high pain levels, I need to record or have someone take notes at the appointment or both. It’s hard to remember if you’re supposed to take a new medication twice a day before meals, on an empty stomach, or once in the morning and once at night. Appointment times are also getting shorter and more filled with new medical terms and information that is important for us to remember.

In general, a healthy person only remembers about 25% of a conversation as soon as it is over. If you have a stressful chronic condition, even remembering that much is almost impossible. So why not record for your own safety? With most smartphones, all you have to do is press record at the start of the appointment and then hit stop at the end.

You’ll be better engaged, have an accurate account of the appointment, and be able to refer back to it when you get home and someone asks, "What did the doctor say?"

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Barby Ingle lives with reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), migralepsy and endometriosis. Barby is a chronic pain educator, patient advocate, and president of the International Pain FoundationShe is also a motivational speaker and best-selling author on pain topics.

More information about Barby can be found at her website. 

The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represents the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.