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Consultation Skills

Skills for Explaining Risk

Explaining risk is not easy!

Explaining and conveying the level of risk to a patient is not easy.  But it’s something that has to be done frequently by doctors because not much we do can be done with 100% accuracy, reliability or validity.  Some patient’s trust us to make decisions for them, but helping explain risk to a patient and their view thereafter will help us make joint decisions that are truly more suited to the patient.  

Quick Tips for Explaining Risk

When explaining the risk of something…

  • Avoid using terms like common or rare
  • Avoid using %; instead, put the figures in context
    –1 in 100 rather than 1%
    –1 person in a town like Warwick rather than 1 in 30000
    – Instead of saying 5% risk…  1 in 20 chance
    – Instead of saying 5% risk…  5 out of 100 people like you
    – Instead of saying 5% risk…  5 out of 100 ways things may turn out for you
    – Many people think a risk of 1:25 is greater than 4:100; those people tend to be less interested in shared-care / informed-choice
  • Use picture diagrams (pictographs) to help – like the Cates Plot diagrams (weblink above)
  • Use simple tables, charts or infographics to display the risk in an easy to understand fashion (reading age 12)

Please leave a comment if you have a tip, spot an error, spot something missing or have a suggestion for a web resource. And of course, if you have developed a resource of your own, please email it to me to share with others.

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