Using visual aids to improve communication of risks about health: a review

ScientificWorldJournal. 2012;2012:562637. doi: 10.1100/2012/562637. Epub 2012 May 2.


Recent research has shown that patients frequently experience difficulties understanding health-relevant numerical concepts. A prominent example is denominator neglect, or the tendency to pay too much attention to numerators in ratios (e.g., number of treated patients who died) with insufficient attention to denominators (e.g., overall number of treated patients). Denominator neglect can lead to inaccurate assessments of treatment risk reduction and thus can have important consequences for decisions about health. Here, we reviewed a series of studies investigating (1) different factors that can influence patients' susceptibility to denominator neglect in medical decision making--including numerical or language-related abilities; (2) the extent to which denominator neglect can be attenuated by using visual aids; and (3) a factor that moderates the effectiveness of such aids (i.e., graph literacy). The review spans probabilistic national U.S. and German samples, as well as immigrant (i.e., Polish people living in the United Kingdom) and undergraduate samples in Spain. Theoretical and prescriptive implications are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Audiovisual Aids*
  • Communication*
  • Decision Support Techniques*
  • Germany
  • Informed Consent*
  • Patient Education as Topic / methods*
  • Patient Participation / methods*
  • Risk Assessment