October 09, 2015
2 min read

Patients' accurate recollection of colonoscopy deteriorates over time

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Colonoscopy patient recollection of polyp detection, number and size, and other procedural details is often unreliable after more than a year has passed, according to data presented at the 2015 Clinical Congress of the American College of Surgeons.

“Some patients don’t recall, some know they’ve had one, but then start guessing as to how long ago it was; some don’t know who did it, or what was found, or what was done,” Amer Alame, MD, a colorectal surgeon at St. John Hospital and Medical Center in Detroit, said in a press release.

To assess patient recollection of colonoscopy findings and follow-up recommendations, Alame and colleagues surveyed 200 randomly selected patients by phone who were grouped in equal numbers based on the amount of time that had lapsed since their last colonoscopy (4 years, 2 years, 1 year and less than 2 months). They asked each patient to recall the date of the procedure, whether polyps were detected (and how many), and what their recommended follow-up interval was, and then they compared their responses to the electronic health record.

“I truly had no idea what we were going to find,” Alame said in the press release.

Only 42% of patients in the 1-year group, 30% in the 2-year group and 28% in the 4-year group could accurately recall the date of their last colonoscopy within a 6-month window, compared with 94% of the 2-month group, who accurately remembered the date of their last colonoscopy within a 1-month window.

The proportions of patients who knew whether polyps were detected during their colonoscopy were 65.2%, 31.6%, 35.7% and 37.5% in the 2-month, 1-year, 2-year and 4-year groups, respectively, and the proportions who could accurately recall the number of polyps detected were 39.1%, 10.5%, 7.1% and 6.25%, respectively.

The researchers concluded that patient recollection of whether polyps were detected during their colonoscopy is less than 40% overall when more than a year has passed, and that their recall of the number of polyps detected is unreliable, so an endoscopy report should always be obtained before clinically significant decisions are made.

“Patients’ personal recollections of endoscopy results can be misleading,” Alame said in the press release, adding that the study results suggest everyone involved with the procedure may contribute to miscommunication, and that it is important to physicians to “repeat crucial information to patients, such as what was done, what was found, and what the recommended plan is for follow-up care.” Possible solutions he suggested included reintroducing himself each time he sees a patient, providing a document for the patient to take home or sending colonoscopy results directly to the patient’s primary care doctor. – by Adam Leitenberger


Tarakji M, et al. Patients’ recollection of colonoscopy results: Are they reliable? Presented at: Clinical Congress of the American College of Surgeons; Oct. 4-8, 2015; Chicago.

Disclosures: Healio Gastroenterology was unable to confirm the researchers’ relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication.