Study: Majority of patients forget physician instructions

Over half — 51 percent — of patients fail to recall recommendations and treatments their physicians give unless prompted, due to a lack of patient participation during visits and ineffective written communications presented to the patient afterwards, according to a study published in PLOS One.

The research team recorded meetings between physicians and patients and later asked them to recall these interactions, said researcher Michael Barton Laws, PhD. Although some patients could recall a most of the visit once they were prompted, the majority of patients could only recall one to two thirds of the physician's recommendations from that visit.

Forty-nine percent of physician instructions were recalled without prompting, 36 percent of patients required a prompt to remember the instructions and 15 percent could not recall the instructions or remembered them incorrectly.

The study revealed two significant patient-physician communication issues. The consultations were usually disorganized since physicians have a number of visits to complete and could only give about 15 minutes per patient. This time limit often left visits rushed and scattered, Dr. Laws said. "The problem is it's very difficult to get doctors to change their behavior."

To respond to these issues, the researchers suggested using an agenda and checklist of topics for the visit to ensure each item is discussed. Additionally, the researchers said encouraging open questions throughout the consultation and finishing with a wrap-up between physician and patient could create a more organized and thorough dialogue. "People can't be said to have shared in the decisions about their medical treatment if they don't know and understand what happened in the visit," Dr. Laws said.

Improving patient-physician communication is crucial to improving patient education, the co-authors said. "It's probably the most important thing that happens in medicine: doctors and patients talking with each other," Dr. Laws concluded.

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