BACKGROUND:Informed consent is a critical component of clinical research. Different methods of presenting information to potential participants of clinical trials may improve the informed consent process. Audio-visual interventions (presented for example on the Internet, DVD, or video cassette) are one such method. OBJECTIVES:To assess the effects of providing audio-visual information alone, or in conjunction with standard forms of information provision, to potential clinical trial participants in the informed consent process, in terms of their satisfaction, understanding and recall of information about the study, level of anxiety and their decision whether or not to participate. SEARCH STRATEGY:We searched: the Cochrane Consumers and Communication Review Group Specialised Register (searched 20 June 2006); the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL), The Cochrane Library, issue 2, 2006; MEDLINE (Ovid) (1966 to June week 1 2006); EMBASE (Ovid) (1988 to 2006 week 24); and other databases. We also searched reference lists of included studies and relevant review articles, and contacted study authors and experts. There were no language restrictions. SELECTION CRITERIA:Randomised and quasi-randomised controlled trials comparing audio-visual information alone, or in conjunction with standard forms of information provision (such as written or oral information as usually employed in the particular service setting), with standard forms of information provision alone, in the informed consent process for clinical trials. Trials involved individuals or their guardians asked to participate in a real (not hypothetical) clinical study. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS:Two authors independently assessed studies for inclusion and extracted data. Due to heterogeneity no meta-analysis was possible; we present the findings in a narrative review. MAIN RESULTS:We included 4 trials involving data from 511 people. Studies were set in the USA and Canada. Three were randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and the fourth a quasi-randomised trial. Their quality was mixed and results should be interpreted with caution. Considerable uncertainty remains about the effects of audio-visual interventions, compared with standard forms of information provision (such as written or oral information normally used in the particular setting), for use in the process of obtaining informed consent for clinical trials. Audio-visual interventions did not consistently increase participants' levels of knowledge/understanding (assessed in four studies), although one study showed better retention of knowledge amongst intervention recipients. An audio-visual intervention may transiently increase people's willingness to participate in trials (one study), but this was not sustained at two to four weeks post-intervention. Perceived worth of the trial did not appear to be influenced by an audio-visual intervention (one study), but another study suggested that the quality of information disclosed may be enhanced by an audio-visual intervention. Many relevant outcomes including harms were not measured. The heterogeneity in results may reflect the differences in intervention design, content and delivery, the populations studied and the diverse methods of outcome assessment in included studies. AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS:The value of audio-visual interventions for people considering participating in clinical trials remains unclear. Evidence is mixed as to whether audio-visual interventions enhance people's knowledge of the trial they are considering entering, and/or the health condition the trial is designed to address; one study showed improved retention of knowledge amongst intervention recipients. The intervention may also have small positive effects on the quality of information disclosed, and may increase willingness to participate in the short-term; however the evidence is weak. There were no data for several primary outcomes, including harms. In the absence of clear results, triallists should continue to explore innovative methods of providing information to potential trial participants. Further research should take the form of high-quality randomised controlled trials, with clear reporting of methods. Studies should conduct content assessment of audio-visual and other innovative interventions for people of differing levels of understanding and education; also for different age and cultural groups. Researchers should assess systematically the effects of different intervention components and delivery characteristics, and should involve consumers in intervention development. Studies should assess additional outcomes relevant to individuals' decisional capacity, using validated tools, including satisfaction; anxiety; and adherence to the subsequent trial protocol.