On KevinMD, Sam Wainwright, an analyst for New America's Health Policy Program, discusses how difficult yet vitally important it is for doctors and patients alike to understand medical risk information. ' Citing a New York Times Opinionator piece titled Chances Are, from 2010, Wainwright writes:
'To make sure patients are fully informed means conveying information about a procedure's risks and benefits in a way they can understand, often when there is neither the time nor presence of mind for SAT-caliber mathematical agility. The lack of accurate and evidence-based guidelines further complicates the situation. For many treatments, we know neither the true probability of success nor how to explain it clearly to a sick and worried patient'[but] patients MUST be fully informed. Only with an understanding of the risks'can a patient make the decision that is right for them."
Wainwright's post, Why the human brain seems to struggle with comprehending risk, underscores Jessie Gruman's message in Should Doctors Protect Us from Data about Medical Risks?. ' Her answer, in a word, is no:
'It seems unconscionable to withhold well-presented risk information about treatment in the relatively few instances when it is available'In their most general form, decision tools communicate that we have choices ' that multiple treatment options are possible, there are trade-offs to be considered, and no guarantees exist regardless of our choice.' These are sobering but important messages for us to grasp as all of us, regardless of our numeracy skills and cognitive biases, are routinely forced to make critical decisions about our health care."
The key to understanding medical risk is that the data are well-presented. Do you agree?' Was there ever a time when you would have rather not known the risks?' Or, did knowing the odds sway your decision?'