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Understanding risk and lessons for clinical risk communication about treatment preferences
  1. A Edwards, senior lecturer,
  2. G Elwyn, senior lecturer
  1. Department of General Practice, University of Wales College of Medicine, Llanedeyrn Health Centre, Llanedeyrn, Cardiff CF3 7PN, UK
  1. Dr A Edwards edwardsag{at}


This paper defines risk and its component elements and describes where clinical practice may be starting from in terms of what is reported in the literature about understanding risks and the information requirements of consumers. It notes briefly how theoretical models in the literature contribute to our understanding by providing a basis from which to summarise current evidence about the effects of healthcare interventions which address risks and risk behaviour. The situations or types of interventions in which risk related interventions are most effective are described, but a significant caveat is noted about the types of outcomes which have been reported in the literature and which are most appropriate to evaluate. The effects of “framing” variations in the information given to consumers and the ethical dilemmas these raise for a debate about “informed choice” in healthcare programmes are discussed. In response to both the practical and ethical dilemmas that arise from the current evidence, some of the areas where attention should be focused in the future are outlined so that both health gain and informed choice might be achieved. These include the use of decision aids, although their implementation is not widespread at present. Lessons from the current literature on how further progress can be made towards improved communication, discussion between professionals and consumers, and enhancing informed choice are discussed.

  • patient preference
  • risk
  • informed choice
  • decision making
  • patient-caregiver communication

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