This study examined the effect of providing patients with an audiotape of a previous consultation on their level of participation during a subsequent consultation. 117 newly referred medical oncology patients randomised to receive a tape (n = 63) or not (n = 54) had two linked consultations which were both audiotaped. A content analysis revealed no significant differences between tape and control group in the mean number of questions asked during the second consultation. However, significantly more tape group patients (77%) asked for clarification of at least one piece of information compared to the control group (57%) (P = 0.04). A larger number of control group patients (61%) made at least one request for facts already provided in their first consultation compared to tape group patients (39%) (P = 0.05). Audiotapes appear to facilitate patients' requests for the clarification of previously given information and permit the re-absorption of complex information given when patients may have been too distressed for it to be assimilated.