A physician practice recently inquired about implementing a policy pursuant to which the practice would begin recording phone calls to and from patients and referring providers. The practice of recording phone calls is not uncommon. For example, every time you call a customer service number you are informed that the call “may be recorded for quality purposes.” However, there are some legal issues to consider before implementing a policy pursuant to which you record phone calls with patients.
First, from a HIPAA perspective, any entity you contract with to record the calls with patients and to store the recordings will need to sign a Business Associate Agreement, in which such entity agrees to protect the patient information it receives. Failing to obtain a Business Associate Agreement in this instance would be a violation of HIPAA.
Second, there is the question of whether you need to inform the patient the call is being recorded. Alabama is considered a “one-party consent” state, meaning you only need the consent of one party in order to record a call — and that one party can be the party making the recording. Thus, as long as the physician practice is aware of the recording, a patient located in Alabama does not have to be informed the call is being recorded. However, things get more tricky when you are making and/or receiving calls from patients located outside of Alabama.
Other states (including the neighboring state of Florida) are “two-party consent” states, meaning you need the consent of both parties in order to make the recording. If a call is made from a physician practice in Alabama, a “one-party consent” state, to a patient located in Florida, a “two-party consent” state, the general legal consensus is that the physician practice must comply with the more stringent “two-party consent” requirements. Thus, under this scenario, a disclosure would need to be made to the patient located in Florida that the call is being recorded.
Finally, the issue of malpractice liability should be considered. While a phone recording can be helpful in the event of a negative outcome (to prove what information was provided to the patient), it, just like any other documentation, can also be harmful (to prove what information was not provided to the patient). Thus, physician practices considering recording more than routine scheduling calls need to give some thought as to whether such recordings will be helpful or harmful if an issue were to arise. Practices may also want to reach out to their malpractice carriers to see if they have any opinion or policy regarding recording phone calls with patients.
Kelli Fleming is a partner with Burr & Forman LLP practicing in the firm’s Health Care Industry Group. Burr & Forman LLP is a partner with the Medical Association.