Blog | Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Getting the gist

In my last ACR session (the convention continues through tomorrow, but our blog coverage finishes today), a psychiatrist spoke about explaining statistical risk to patients, a topic I've covered before.

One of her key points was that patients need to understand the gist, rather than the specifics, of risk. She used a clever example to make this point. Two patients are offered a surgical treatment that carries a 2% mortality risk. This risk is explained to them several weeks before the surgery, and then they are asked about it immediately beforehand. Patient A remembers the risk as 10%, while Patient B remembers a 0% risk. Even though Patient B's recollection is numerically closer to correct, it's less useful, because Patient A has correctly understood the gist that the surgery holds some mortality risk.

So what's the practical import? When talking to patients about risk, worry more about whether they seem to have gotten the general idea (aka the gist) rather than whether they can recite stats back to you verbatim.