Why this matters
Communicating statistics on risk is an important part of patient information But, 61% of people aged 16-65 are unable to understand and use health information if numeracy skills are required. As information producers, our job is to help people feel confident in making decisions about their health.
Numbers not words
- Interpretation of words like rare and common varies enormously. Always use a statistic such as 1 in 100 people alongside words like rare or common.
- Use natural numbers rather than percentages, for example 10 in 100, rather than 10%.
Use absolute risk rather than relative risk
The absolute risk of an event increases from 1 in 100 to 2 in 100, but the relative risk of the event doubles. Using relative risk in isolation can be misleading.
- A great way to improve users’ understanding of risk and statistics is to use visual aids.
- Using a mix of numerical and pictorial formats to communicate risk is helpful.
- Visual displays may be most helpful for giving people an overall pattern, whereas actual
numbers can be better for communicating detail.
Perceptions of risk
- Framing – describing something in a positive or negative way – can affect perception of risk.
Consider using both positive and negative framing, i.e. chance of survival and chance of death.
- Adding some context to your statistics can make them more meaningful.
- Communicate the uncertainty of data.
. Defining and describing the mismatch between population health literacy and numeracy and health system complexity’. Rowlands G, Protheroe J, Winkley J, Seed PT, Richardson M, Rudd R. (Submitted for publication)