• 8Jul

    Even doctors can find health and illness statistics hard to interpret

    The BBC World Service has published an interesting article and radio programme reviewing a new book about statistics, how well doctors understand them, and the impact this has on the ability of patients to make informed decision about treatment.

    The book has been written by statistician Gerd Gigerenzer, director of the Harding Center for Risk Literacy in Berlin, and an expert in uncertainty and decision-making. His new book, Risk Savvy, examines the understanding of risk in health, and how a lack of understanding by health professionals results in patients not being given the information they need to make choices about healthcare.

    Gigerenzer says setting probabilities out as percentages is confusing, for doctors as well as patients, journalists and politicians. The article cites experiments he has run highlighting confusion about probability and percentages, and about survival and mortality rates. He campaigns for risks to be expressed using numbers of people, and if possible diagrams.

    BBC World Service also spoke to Dr Glynn Elwyn at the Dartmouth Center for Health Care Delivery Science in the US. Elwyn recommends doctors come clean when they don’t know something, and make use of tools like option grids – which clearly lay out treatment options and their consequences – to work through difficult decisions with patients.

    The article and radio programme can be found here.