In One Ear and Out the Other - What Patients Remember

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In this article Professor Margolis sets out why patient it is important that patients understand and recall information discussed with their doctor and summarises research showing how little of what is discussed patients remember - even when their condition is serious.  He sets out a range of factors that impact on a patient's ability to recall information and briefly describes a number of practical approaches to maximising patients' retention of information.

Professor Margolis reports that studies have found that when patients understand the information that is communicated by a healthcare provider, there are significant enhancements of patient satisfaction, compliance with recommendations, and outcomes. In addition, there are significant decreases in anxiety, treatment time, and cost.

He summarises research findings which show that, because many factors affect memory for health information, there is a wide range of results, but overall studies indicate that about 50% of information provided by healthcare providers is retained.  However research also shows that of the information that is recalled, about half is remembered incorrectly.

Professor Margolis highlights that a range of factors can have an impact on a patient's ability to understand and recall information, including patient factors, such as their familiarity with the information or their emotional state at the time of the consultation;

the mode of presentation, such as whether it is presented in an easy-to-understand format, the volume of information presented and how specific recommendations are

clinician factors, meaning the clinician's communication style - patients are more likely to remember information described using clear language with simple sentence structure.

Professor Margolis goes on to describe a number of approaches health professionals can use to improve patients' recall of information, such as giving specific concrete instructions rather than more general advice - for example ''Use ear plugs when you use your power tools'' rather than ''Keep your noise exposure to a minimum.''

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