A systematic review of interventions to improve recall of medical advice in healthcare consultations

J R Soc Med. 2009 Jun;102(6):235-43. doi: 10.1258/jrsm.2009.090013.


Background: In order for patients to adhere to healthcare advice, it is essential that they are able to recall this following a consultation. Although psychological research exists which highlights techniques and factors postulated to influence recall, only a limited body of work has been conducted to evaluate their effectiveness in a clinical context.

Aim: To carry out a systematic review of intervention trials designed to enhance recall of medical information.

Methods: We searched Medline (1950-April 2007); Embase (1980-April 2007); Cinahl (1982-April 2007); PsychINFO (1969-2007); and the Cochrane Library Collection. Secondary searches were made through reference to relevant journals and reference lists from relevant papers/review papers.

Results: From 69 papers provisionally identified, 34 papers met the inclusion criteria. Nine recall interventions had been evaluated (audio recordings, written materials, adjunct questions, prompt sheets, visual aids, cognitive strategies, rehearsal, communication styles and personalized teaching). Despite the experimental and theoretical evidence which could have informed cognitive interventions to enhance recall of healthcare advice, most studies primarily focused on the use of written and/or audio-recorded medical instructions. Although the majority of studies supported these approaches insofar as they enhanced recall, the findings were equivocal.

Conclusion: While written and tape-recorded instructions appear to improve recall in most situations, a dearth of interventions incorporating psychological theory was readily apparent. Further research is required in clinical settings to determine if cognitive interventions based on a more over-arching psychological model of recall are effective.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Delivery of Health Care / standards
  • Humans
  • Mental Recall*
  • Patient Compliance / psychology*
  • Patient Education as Topic* / methods
  • Patient Education as Topic* / standards