Historically, healthcare administrators have been concerned about the risks of patients recording their conversations. Perhaps they should be more concerned about the risks of patients not having a recording of their physician or other caregiver.

A recent article in Healthcare Executive examines the issue from an ethics perspective and looks at the benefits for the patient’s understanding of what is being communicated during an encounter. Similar to the use of Louise, a virtual avatar for the discharge process, patients or their family caregivers can replay sessions to clarify information they believe they have received, or simply to reassure themselves.

Family caregivers may also find the recordings a more convenient way of participating in care processes and supporting the patient and provider. And, the best reason for not only permitting but encouraging the recording of important patient encounters is to truly reflect a patient-centered approach to care.

However, there is another set of important reasons to support encounter recordings: safety and risk management.

Safety leaders working toward highly reliable care and zero errors may find value with identifying opportunities for improvement, such as training. A recording doesn’t simply document what was said, but also how it was said and delivered.

If a medical error did occur, what are all the lessons learned? How should the encounter have gone? Availability of a recording might reveal opportunities currently unrecognized.

In addition, a portion of reimbursement for care is increasingly being tied to patient safety, quality and satisfaction. Hospital administrators and risk managers are typically not present during encounters, but a recording may provide insight into exactly what was said, or wasn’t, shedding light on even more opportunities for improvement.

Looking at risk from another perspective: having information one can use and act upon can improve compliance with discharge instructions by patients and reduce the risk of readmission.

What is often printed out and handed to a patient at the conclusion of an encounter, too, often lacks relevant and important details for the patient. This is especially true for patients with high levels of stress, complex conditions, and those challenged by low health literacy, memory or cognitive functioning.

At the end of the day, patients are recording their encounters with their providers. An open and transparent policy that is supportive of patients getting the information they need, in the format needed, is more in line with patient-centered care. The opposite is a mistrusting environment that breeds miscommunication and risks poor patient outcomes. Which is better: not knowing an encounter was recorded…or knowing?