Helping cancer patients make sense of risk

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Published: 28 Sep 2014
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Prof Rocio Garcia-Retamero - University of Granada, Granada, Spain

Prof Rocio Garcia-Retamero speaks to ecancertv at ESMO2014 about her research on communicating risk to cancer patients.

She explains how an understanding of statistics and risk analysis will empower cancer patients. 

You’re discussing important factors about talking to patients. Statistics is a big deal, isn’t it? What has been going wrong?

Very often physicians assume that patients understand all the information that they receive, for instance, information about benefits and risks of medical screenings, treatments, novel drugs and so on and so forth. So they assume that all patients get this information but our research shows that many of them don’t.

Most patients and many doctors think more in terms of definitely this or definitely that but, in fact, probabilities are involved. What’s your solution to understanding all of that or getting patients to understand it?

In order to promote sure decision making and informed decision making very often physicians should use transparent information formats for communicating risks and, for instance, our research shows that this influence by what we call transparent visual aids very often improves risk communication, improves risk understanding, risk communication and promotes shared decision making between physicians and patients. So the patient wants to be involved in the decision making process about his or her health.

Give me an example of a transparent method of communication.

For instance, a visual aid, a transparent visual aid reporting, so, a graphical representation, transparent graphical representation, of numerical information about the benefits and the risks of mammography.

What should doctors and other clinicians be doing about all of this?

I would recommend that they use this type of information format. So very often they can use them, they are cheap, they are available out there, so they can use them. It would improve risk communication substantially.

What’s the simple bottom line take home message?

The take home message is that they should not assume that all patients understand the message that they provide and there are alternative information formats that they can use to promote risk communication.