NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - How surgery patients perceive the risk of a procedure varies based on how surgeons communicate risk information to them, according to a new study.
The study found that using percentages, or a range of percentages, is more effective than using qualitative terms such as "uncommon" or "sometimes."
"Surgeons need to recognize that the language they use to communicate impacts people's understanding and downstream can actually impact their decision making," Dr. Joshua Rosen of the Surgical Outcomes Research Center at the University of Washington, in Seattle, said in reporting the results at the virtual American College of Surgeons (ACS) Clinical Congress 2021.
In a survey, 296 adults (54% men) were given one of three descriptions of the risk of deep space infection after appendicitis surgery. They were told that this surgical complications happens 3% of the time, or 1% to 5% of the time, or that it was an "uncommon" complication.
Participants were then asked what they perceived the risk would be for a typical person to suffer this complication given the information presented.
"As expected, when told there's a 3% risk, most people estimated around a 3% to 5% risk," Dr. Rosen reported.
"However, when people were told it was uncommon, the average risk estimate they gave was actually 26% and there was a wide range spanning many different estimates, so the variability in that interpretation is much higher," he noted.
"That tells us that that type of communication is problematic, because it leads to huge variation and what the surgeon thinks they're communicating to the patient might not actually be what the patient is understanding," Dr. Rosen said.
Summing up, Dr. Rosen said is clear that the way surgeons communicate risk impacts how patients perceive it - something that is not necessarily a "well-appreciated fact. How to communicate risks and benefits is not something that's commonly taught in medical school."
SOURCE: https://www.facs.org/clincon2021 American College of Surgeons (ACS) Clinical Congress 2021, held October 23-27, 2021.
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