Taping Doctors' Conversations Helps Parents of Newborns in Intensive Care

But Web-based communication is even more effective, one expert says

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By Steven Reinberg
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Nov. 30, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Parents of infants hospitalized in intensive-care units are often upset and stressed and don't always fully understand what the doctors are telling them.

But by taping the doctors' conversations, parents can review the talks later and understand exactly what they were being told and the advice being offered, according to a report by Australian researchers.

"Patients, especially when stressed or in a state of shock, find it difficult to recall information given by senior doctors," said lead researcher Dr. Tieh Hee Koh, a neonatologist and clinical director at the Women's and Children's Health Institute of James Cook University Medical School, in Douglas, Queensland. "Even if we doctors discuss at length with the patients about their conditions, they may still not recall anything," he added.

For the study, the researchers recruited 200 mothers with babies in neonatal intensive care. The women were put into two groups: One group had their consultations with doctors recorded and were given a copy of the recording. The second group did not receive a recording.

After 10 days, and then again at four months, the mothers were asked to recall the diagnosis, tests, treatment and outcome of their babies, as explained by their neonatologist.

Koh's team found that women who received a tape recalled significantly more about diagnosis, treatment and outcome, than mothers in the control group. "Six of the 100 mothers not given the tapes did not recall any of the conversations," he said.

The study is published in the Dec. 2 edition of the British Medical Journal.

Although the tapes did not affect the mothers' levels of anxiety or depression, 96 percent listened to the tapes and found them helpful. Moreover, among babies with poor outcomes, the mothers who got tapes were significantly more satisfied with the conversations with the doctors than those who didn't get tapes, the researchers found.

The study authors believe that this method of improving communication between doctors and family members and patients can be extended to other areas of medical care.

Koh, who has been using this method for 12 years, advises "buying a tape recorder for anybody going into hospital or for any doctor friends."

One expert thinks the taping method isn't necessarily the best way for patients and family members to get the medical information they need.

"Patients never hear what doctors tell them," said Dr. Charles Safran, an associate clinical professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and an expert in patient-doctor communication. "It's not surprising in neonates, where parents need a Ph.D. in intensive care to even remotely understand what's happening to their kid, [that they] don't remember what their doctors tell them."

Safran thinks there's a need for better communication, and the answer may rest with the Internet. Using Web-based, interactive communication allows people to access the information they need as they need it and helps improves communication between doctors and patients and patients' families.

"Web-based intervention, where there is persistence of information, where information, rather than just being given in one large taped session, is made available where and when a parent needs it, has a huge value," Safran said. "When you do that, you can improve parent satisfaction dramatically."

More information

For more on doctor-patient communication, visit the American Academy of Family Physicians.

SOURCES: Tieh Hee Koh, M.D., neonatologist, clinical director, Women's and Children's Health Institute, James Cook University Medical School, Douglas, Queensland, Australia; Charles Safran, M.D., associate clinical professor of medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston; Dec. 2, 2006, British Medical Journal

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