Translating evidence-based information into effective risk communication: current challenges and opportunities

J Lab Clin Med. 2005 Apr;145(4):171-80. doi: 10.1016/j.lab.2005.02.006.


Recent medical advances and the easy availability of evidence-based information at the point of care are believed to provide physicians with improved tools for risk communication. However, evidence indicates that physicians still display marked variability in ordering tests. Factors that determine a physician's test-ordering tendencies vary by specialization, practice, geographical location, defensive practice, and tolerance of uncertainty and are also modified by patient requests. Understanding of statistical terms on the part of both physicians and patients remains limited. Physicians may display limited ability to assess pretest and posttest probabilities, especially in low- and intermediate-risk patients, even after attending short courses in epidemiology, or may find the process impractical. Presentation of diagnostic-test results in a natural-frequency format might improve understanding. Both physicians and patients have difficulty grasping the term "number needed to treat" compared with "relative risk reduction" when comparing therapeutic options. Other patient-related factors that limit understanding include low literacy, individual risk tolerance, and framing patterns of the problem (potential gains vs losses). Despite numerous available modalities (quantitative and qualitative) of risk communication, consensus over the advantage of any single modality in translating evidence into risk communication is limited. It is essential that physicians remain patient-centered, generate trust, and build a partnership with the patient to achieve consensus for medical decision-making. Future studies are indicated to assess the effectiveness of novel risk-communication modalities based on patients' and physicians' characteristics and identify appropriate modality of translating evidence (quantitative or qualitative information).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Communication*
  • Comprehension
  • Decision Making
  • Evidence-Based Medicine*
  • Humans
  • Patients / psychology
  • Physicians / psychology
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Risk Management
  • Risk*