Objective To review trials of the effectiveness of interventions aimed at improving communication between health professionals and women in maternity care.
Search strategy The electronic databases Medline, PsycLit, The Cochrane Library, BIDS Science and Social Science Indexes, Cinahl and Embase were searched. Final searches were carried out in April 2000.
Inclusion criteria Controlled trials of interventions explicitly aimed at improving communication between health professionals and women in maternity care were included. Other trials were included where two reviewers agreed that this was at least part of the aim.
Data extraction and synthesis 95 potentially eligible papers were identified, read by one reviewer and checked against the inclusion criteria. The 11 included trials were read, assessed for quality and summarized in a structured tabular form.
Results The included trials evaluated interventions to improve the presentation of information about antenatal testing, to promote informed choice in maternity care, woman-held maternity records and computer-based history taking. Four trials in which women were provided with extra information about antenatal testing in a variety of formats suggested that this was valued by women and may reduce anxiety. Communication skills training for midwives and doctors improved their information giving about antenatal tests. The three trials of woman-held maternity records suggested that these increase women's involvement in and control over their care.
Conclusions The trials identified by this review addressed limited aspects of communication and focused solely on antenatal care. Further research is required in several areas, including trials of communication skills training for health professionals in maternity care and other interventions to improve communication during labour and in the postnatal period.