Tapes, Transcripts Might Help Cancer Patients Recall Medical Information

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Patients can find it hard to absorb what their doctors tell them during stressful moments. Recordings or transcripts of office visits could help people with cancer - or their family members - recall medical information they might otherwise have missed, a new review suggests.

“It is important to consider anything that can improve the cancer patient’s experience, especially interventions that can be easily accommodated within the normal office visit,” said lead author Marie Pitkethly, co-coordinator of the Scottish Primary Care Research Network in Dundee.

The review included 16 studies of 2,318 adults who either had cancer themselves or were dealing with a close relative with cancer. The researchers looked at the effects of providing recordings or summaries of doctor-patient interactions on information recall and understanding, participation in follow-up visits, satisfaction and other concerns.

Many of the studies were small and did not always measure the same things, making it difficult to consolidate the findings. However, Pitkethly said, the researchers arrived at the “general conclusion that many participants found recordings or summaries valuable, and there was no evidence of any harm to patients.”


The review appears in the latest issue of The Cochrane Library, a publication of The Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates medical research. Systematic reviews like this one draw evidence-based conclusions about medical practice after considering both the content and quality of existing medical trials on a topic.

“I don't think that there is enough evidence to either support or contest the use of recordings on a routine basis,” Pitkethly said. “There may well be other improvements to communication that would be a more efficient use of resources and have a greater impact on outcomes.”

Richard Frankel Ph.D., a professor of medicine and geriatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine, said many people who receive cancer information at the doctor’s office do not accurately remember what the physician said.

“Anything that can be done to increase their potential for retaining information is worth trying,” he said. “This review shows that the use of audio or videotapes can be very useful in some patients, but not all patients. The primary lesson this review teaches us that there needs to be an individualized approach to having difficult conversations with patients.”

Frankel said that the issues raised are especially timely.

“Since 2000 and the Institute of Medicine reports on quality in health care, there has been a shift from a health care provider-centered model to one that responds more to the needs of the consumer,” he said. “This has coincided with studies suggesting patient-centered medicine has a positive impact on quality of health care. Offering audiotapes or providing alternative ways of communicating is a way to move the focus to patients and how they learn best. ”