Harvard Heart Letter

Heart Beat: Tape of meeting eases jitters before bypass

When a doctor tells you that you need surgery, it's hard to hear the details that follow. The information floods into the brain, but the mind is often too busy with questions like "Will I be okay?" or "Who will take care of my family while I recover?" or "How will I pay for this?"

Having a family member along can help you keep track of important information like success rates, possible complications, recovery, and alternatives to the operation, but your companion may also have a hard time absorbing it. A tape recorder could be an excellent option.

Researchers in Scotland tested this strategy. In the practice of a single cardiac surgeon, 84 men and women who needed coronary artery bypass surgery for the first time received information in different ways during their presurgical consultation: one-third were given a tape recording of the meeting, one-third were given a tape of generic information about bypass surgery, and one-third didn't get any recording. Those who received a recording of the actual consultation had a better understanding of what the procedure involved, felt more in control, and were less anxious, the researchers reported in the April 2010 Archives of Surgery.

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