Purpose: Despite reports of poor patient understanding and recall after cancer consultations, few doctors provide communication aids. We conducted a randomized trial comparing an audiotape of the consultation versus individualized summary letters to patients after their first consultation with a medical oncologist.
Methods: One hundred eighty-two cancer patients were randomized to receive either (1) the audiotape followed 7 to 10 days later by the letter or (2) the letter followed by the audiotape. Outcome measures included patient recall, anxiety and depression, satisfaction with and use of the communication aids, and patient preferences for six communication options. Demographic and disease variables and information and involvement preferences were documented.
Results: Eighty percent of patients wanted all information and 72% wanted to participate in treatment decisions. Patients listened to the tape on average 2.3 times and read the letter 2.8 times over 4 weeks, and 90% showed the tape or letter to a friend, relative, or doctor. Satisfaction with the tape and letter were uniformly high and they did not differentially affect recall, anxiety, or depression. When asked to rank six communication options, 46% of patients gave the highest rank to the tape and 21% to the letter.
Conclusion: Patients use audiotapes of their cancer consultation and individualized letters to review the information given and communicate information to relatives and friends. They prefer audiotapes to letters. Clinicians should consider installing audiotape-recording facilities that could be used to tape new-patient consultations.