Risks and statistics are an essential part of patient information. What is a person’s risk of developing a particular condition in their lifetime, or of having a certain symptom if they have that condition? What are the risk factors for a disease, and can people change these? What is the chance of a treatment or procedure working? And what is the risk of getting the different side-effects and complications that can come with it?
Many patients are unable to comprehend basic statistics, never mind navigate their way through the reams of data that may come with health information to compare treatment options. As information producers, our job is to make sure we can guide patients through the minefield of data and figures to help them feel confident in making their own decisions.
This guide from the Patient Information Forum highlights a range of approaches and tools for unbiased communication.
This resource covers the following topics: illustrating risk, perceptions of risk, know your numbers, explaining uncertainty, useful resources and references.
Communicating risk checklist
- Be cautious using verbal descriptors of risk. If used, ensure these are accompanied by statistical information.
- Use absolute risk rather than relative risk.
- Use natural frequencies (i.e. x in 100) as well as percentages.
- Consider using both positive and negative framing for risk.
- Communicate uncertainty of data; explain the effect confidence intervals (or deeper uncertainties) have on data.
- Consider using a mix of numerical and pictorial formats to communicate risk.
- Make risks relevant. Consider using examples as a comparator.