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Behav Sci Law. 1994 Autumn;12(4):417-26.

Patients' interpretations of verbal expressions of probability: implications for securing informed consent to medical interventions.

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Medical Service (111-P), Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Portland, Oregon 97201, USA.


Physicians often use verbal expressions of probability to characterize their uncertainty about outcomes and the risks or side effects of proposed therapies. However, there is an extensive literature that documents the inherent vagueness of such expressions. Because of the potential importance of probability terms to physician-patient communication and decision-making, we asked patients to tell us the odds they thought applicable to the term "rare," as used by their physician to discuss the likelihood of an adverse outcome from surgery. Patients were randomly assigned to one of three outcome groups: death, severe heart attack, or severe pneumonia. Demographic data were elicited from each subject, as were indicators of present health status, medical history for certain diseases and surgery, and life expectancy. Linear regression and ANOVA analyses of the responses indicate that patient age, education level, perceived health status, and recency of experience with disease and medical care influence patients' numeric interpretations. We discuss the implications of these results.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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