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Patients Can’t Recall Half of What the Doctor Said

A study suggests more patient engagement in medical decisions

Patient speaking to doctor
Researchers suggest patients do more talking during visits with doctors to improve recall and enhance decision-making.
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Patients only remember about 49 percent of the decisions and recommendations made during talks with their doctors, leaving many with limited influence on the course of their care, a new research study has found.

The study out of Brown University’s School of Public Health found that patients forgot or never learned about half the essential information from talks with health care providers, though prompting helped recall another 36 percent of it. About 15 percent of the information was remembered erroneously or not at all.

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Patients in the study with less than a high school education recalled 38 percent of the decisions and recommendations, while those with a college degree remembered 65 percent of it, the researchers reported.

To improve the patients’ recall and enhance their decision-making ability, the researchers said they need to do more of the talking during the “precious time” they spend with doctors.

“[The] findings suggest that patient recall could be enhanced if providers were to use more of the techniques to encourage patient engagement, such as open questioning, agenda setting, and teach-back; and limit the amount of information to be remembered in a single visit based on an assessment of [the] patients’ ability to recall,” the researchers wrote while reporting their findings in the journal PLOS One.

Doctors generally understand this, but many are just too busy, the researchers said. So they suggested allowing more time for these talks while encouraging feedback from patients with open questions and discussion of multiple options.

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