In a recent column in The Boston Globe, a physician suggested doctors wear body cameras to record encounters with patients, in part because of concern for racism on the part of the doctor.
On the flip side, in the United Kingdom, a recent National Health Survey found that 26% of health professionals and staff report at least one encounter per year of being abused or harassed by patients, and body cams have been suggested by several groups in the UK in order to help protect health-care workers.
In fact, cameras have already been used in ambulances to record encounters.
Yet body cams are the absolute wrong answer to ensure equality and fairness in medicine. It’s not too soon to nip this idea in the bud.
For one thing, the entire doctor-patient relationship is built on trust.
An intimate encounter where a patient reveals secrets that are essential for care and cures is one that needs to be free-flowing, not scripted based on fear of retribution.
Secondly, if we were to record these encounters, who exactly would review them to make sure they were devoid of racist, sexist or antisemitic content, for example?
Would it be the hospital, the medical board, the state, a special group of attorneys, “big brother”?
Doctors already feel encumbered by fear of malpractice, or being reported to a hospital or state because of perceived slights to our patients.
Of course, I take each and every encounter seriously. And, yes, like anyone, I make mistakes in my bedside manner — but I need to correct those, not be policed into doing so.
Meanwhile, the increased use of body cams by police since the George Floyd murder is itself controversial, though there is certainly more rationale for that than for doctors and patients to use them.
In fact, all too often body cams pick up the police being mistreated rather than the perpetrator.
The same could be true for health-care professionals.
When people are ill, they may lash out, especially when they have to wait for treatment.
It is an expected part of my job to cope with this.
Is it right that women physicians are frequently called nurses or that top doctors with an accent (like my wife) are not always treated with the same degree of respect? No, it isn’t.
Should this necessitate a body cam to make sure a doctor is treated with respect? No, it shouldn’t.
My medical training was focused on parity, on body organs and illness rather than on cultural or ethnic or racial differences.
I was trained to treat everyone with the same respect.
Bellevue Hospital was my melting pot. The hospital’s motto is to take all comers.
As the great philosopher/physician Maimonides said centuries ago, “May I never see in the patient anything but a fellow creature in pain.”
Are there racist physicians? Of course.
Minorities, especially blacks and Hispanics, have a justified, longtime distrust of the medical establishment based on centuries of mistreatment, and they may be slow to come for medical care in many cases as a result.
There are also pervasive health care disparities in the United States when it comes to maternity care and other essential services.
Yet the solution is not to record my conversation with my patient.
We can’t deny mistreatments on both sides. But a body camera introduces another layer of bureaucratic surveillance that will only undermine and stifle the doctor-patient relationship, not cleanse it of impurities.
Recorded encounters for the purpose of evaluation could even be the final straw that causes your doctor to quit.
Marc Siegel, M.D., is a clinical professor of medicine and medical director of Doctor Radio at NYU Langone Health and a Fox News medical analyst.
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