Purpose: Studies of tape recordings of cancer consultations have produced conflicting results. At the same time, audiotapes containing general information about cancer are poorly evaluated and are distributed to patients in an ad hoc manner. We compared the effects of both interventions on patient satisfaction, psychologic adjustment, and recall of information following their first consultation with a medical oncologist.
Patients and methods: Patients (n = 142) were randomized to receive (1) an audiotape of their consultation, (2) an audiotape describing cancer in general terms, or (3) no tape. Recall of information was assessed in a structured interview 4 to 20 days after the consultation.
Results: Satisfaction with the consultation increased linearly from no tape to general tape to consultation tape. Satisfaction with the tape itself was higher in patients who received the consultation tape (satisfaction score, 61%) compared with those who received the general tape (43%). Average recall for all groups was 6.4 of the 25 items of information presented, and 2.4 of the six points identified as particularly important by the oncologist. The consultation tape did not improve recall over the no tape control, but the general tape caused a decrease of almost two items in total recall. Spontaneous (ie, unprompted) recall was significantly poorer with the general information tape. Psychologic adjustment to cancer was unaffected.
Conclusion: We conclude that individual audiotapes have a limited potential to increase recall of information from the oncology consultation. General information tapes about cancer appear to inhibit recall actively.