We explored, in advanced breast cancer, whether: (1) patients recall less information following bad versus good news consultations; (2) empathy has a greater effect on recalled information following bad versus good news consultations.
Observational study using audio-recorded consultations. Participants’ recall of provided information about treatment options, aims/positive effects and side-effects was assessed. Clinician-expressed empathy and consultation type were determined. Regression analyses assessed associations between consultation type and recall, exploring moderating influences of clinician-expressed empathy.
For 41 consultations (18 bad news, 23 good news), recall data were completed; total recall (47% vs 73%, p=0.03) and recall about treatment options (67% vs 85%, p=0.08, trend) were significantly worse following bad news compared with good news consultations. Recall about treatment aims/positive effects (53% vs 70%, p=0.30) and side-effects (28% vs 49%, p=0.20) was not significantly worse following bad news. Empathy moderated the relationship between consultation type and total recall (p<0.01), recall about treatment options (p=0.03) and about aims/positive effects (p<0.01) but not about side-effects (p=0.10). Only following good news consultations empathy influenced recall favourably.
This explorative study suggests that in advanced cancer, information recall is especially impaired following bad news consultations, for which empathy does not improve remembered information.