Background: Patients' understanding of their disease and treatment varies in detail and accuracy. In order to participate in decisions about their care patients must understand, evaluate and retain complex information.
Methods: We canvassed doctors' views about the use of individualised letters and the use of audiotapes of the initial cancer consultation to improve doctor-patient communication. The study sample consists of doctors whose patients participated in a trial of the latter technique.
Results: One hundred sixty of 194 doctors (82%) responded to a mailed questionnaire. Sixty-one percent of respondents felt that providing patients with a tape of their initial cancer consultation would be beneficial, and 71% felt that an individualised letter would be better. General practitioners were more supportive of providing tape recordings to patients than were specialists (p = 0.057), but both groups favoured letters over tapes. Specialists were more concerned about the risks of providing tapes to patients than were general practitioners (p = 0.001), but only 13% of respondents felt that the risks were prohibitive.
Discussion: Wide support for providing individualised letters or tapes to patients, and copies to their doctors, indicate that the doctors surveyed believe that both doctor-patient and doctor-doctor communication could be improved by the use of these techniques.