So how did your doctor visit go? We’ve all heard that question from family and friends, but it can quickly lead to a frustrating exercise in trying to remember exactly what did happen during those precious minutes you spent with your doctor.

Perhaps you recall something about needing to return for some tests…but you’re not quite sure what the tests are for. Or maybe your doctor suggested a better way to monitor your symptoms…but you don’t remember what it was.

Luckily, most of us have a cure for this common ailment right in our pockets or purses—our smartphones. Pull it out and press a recording app the next time you sit down with your doctor, and you never have to wonder again about what happened at your appointment. It’s easier to make a recording than to take notes. Plus, you can relisten to what was discussed during the appointment…and share it with others electronically.

Sounds easy, right? It is—but there are some important points to consider before you hit “record.”

A COMMONSENSE SOLUTION

Very few people are blessed with perfect recall, and our memories tend to become less efficient as we age. Add on the possibility of hearing loss—a common problem for adults over age 50—and you’ve got a recipe for miscommunication.

Throw in the overall stress of a medical encounter—especially one where you may be receiving new or distressing information—along with the high probability that your doctor may have lapsed into medicalese while explaining a complex concept, and it’s no wonder that so many of us struggle to remember and understand what we hear under those conditions.

Among patients who have access to recordings of their doctor visits, studies suggest that there are benefits. One review, published in Patient Education & Counseling, found that about 72% of patients took the time to listen to the recording after the appointment…and 60% shared it with caregivers, including family and friends. Just knowing that a conversation is being recorded may also encourage patients and doctors to express themselves more clearly.

IMPORTANT CONSIDERATIONS

Before you whip out your smartphone at your next doctor visit, keep these key points in mind…

POINT #1: Know the law. In 38 states and the District of Columbia, you can legally record a conversation with another person—even a medical provider—with or without the other person’s consent. In the following 12 states, you do need consent from both the patient and the physician (verbal consent is acceptable)—California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon, Pennsylvania and Washington.

So if you ask a doctor for permission to record your visit in one of these 12 states, he/she could refuse. If you went ahead and made a recording without permission and the doctor finds out, you could be reported to legal authorities. You could also get into legal trouble for sharing the recording.

As mentioned above, in the 38 states and District of Columbia that don’t require permission, you could record and share the doctor visit secretly, but there are good reasons not to do that (more on that shortly).

Important: If you use a recording to damage the reputation of a doctor—by posting a damning conversation on Facebook, for example—you could face legal consequences. If you sue a doctor for medical malpractice, a recording may or may not be admissible as evidence. An attorney would need to advise you.

POINT #2: Don’t jeopardize your relationship with your doctor. Even if you are in a state where it’s legal to secretly record a doctor visit, it’s a bad idea.

Here’s why: Good patient/doctor relationships are built on trust. If your doctor finds out that you are secretly recording him, that’s going to undermine trust. And even if your doctor doesn’t find out, many patients will find themselves feeling anxious about the deception.

Better idea: Let the doctor know that you would like to record the visit, emphasizing the potential benefits to you. You might say: “You know, sometimes I have real trouble recalling everything. Would you mind if I recorded this conversation so I can review it later and perhaps share it with my relatives?”

We don’t have much data on how doctors respond to such requests. In some states, as noted earlier, they can legally say “no.” But as more patients ask, it will be interesting to see what happens.

Ideally, groups representing medical providers and patients will get together to develop guidelines for recording doctor visits so that eventually it will become common practice. Until then, doctors might be reassured by preliminary evidence suggesting that patients rarely set out to use a recording against a doctor—as evidence in a malpractice case, for instance.

POINT #3: Know the technical details. Don’t own a smartphone? A simple digital recorder will work fine, and it costs a lot less (prices start at about $20). If you still own an old-fashioned cassette tape recorder, that will work, too.

But if you do have a smartphone, making a recording is easy. On an iPhone: You can just tap the Voice Memos icon and then press the red button to record. You can download other recording apps, for both iPhone and Android phones, and many are free. Some come with bells and whistles—like the ability to type in notes as you tape or convert audio to text.

To make the process even more user-friendly, some providers are experimenting with secure online systems that are specially designed to record and store audio from medical visits and make key exchanges easier to find and play back.

WHAT ABOUT PRIVACY?

One law that patients do not need to worry about if they are recording and sharing a doctor visit is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). This health-privacy law limits what health providers, insurers and other professionals can do with your medical information, but it doesn’t stop you from making or using your own audio medical recordings.