Qual Saf Health Care 13:169-170 doi:10.1136/qshc.2004.010850
  • Commentary
  • Communicating risks in health care

Flexible rather than standardised approaches to communicating risks in health care

  1. A Edwards
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr A Edwards
 Department of Primary Care, Swansea Clinical School, University of Wales Swansea, Singleton Park, Swansea SA2 8PP, UK;

    A sufficiently flexible approach to risk communication is needed to accommodate a wide range of patient interpretation and preferences for information

    Informed medical decision making depends at least partly on understanding the benefits and harms of different treatment options. This requires clear and relevant risk communication. In practice this means that information should include both harms and benefits where relevant, and be presented honestly—not hiding information thought to be less desirable. Attention should be paid to the potential pitfalls of “framing”—how different formats such as relative and absolute risk can manipulate decisions made.1 Certain types of risk information such as “natural frequencies” (for example, 1 in 10) are generally more consistently and accurately interpreted than percentages (for example, 10%). In percentages, the reference class (population or group to which the figure applies) is often not clearly specified.2 For any data, though, there are uncertainties and these should be shared where evident.3 There is support for having a range of information formats available (a “toolbox”) so that professionals can use the most appropriate one to aid discussions with individual patients.4 Such formats may be descriptive, numerical, or graphical. They may include patient narratives of their experiences to convey the pros and cons of …

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