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Risk Anal. 2004 Oct;24(5):1337-47.

Intended message versus message received in hypothetical physician risk communications: exploring the gap.

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Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Harvard School of Public Health, CT, USA.


We examined the risk perception that is derived from hypothetical physician risk communications. Subjects (n= 217) completed a questionnaire on the Web for $3. Subjects were presented with four hypothetical cancer risk scenarios that included a physician risk communication in one of three risk communication formats: verbal only, verbal plus numeric probability as a percent, and verbal plus numeric probability as a fraction. In each scenario, subjects were asked to imagine themselves as the patient described and to state their perceived personal susceptibility to the cancer (i.e., risk perception) on a 0 to 100 scale, as well as responses to other measures. Subjects' risk perceptions were highly variable, spanning nearly the entire probability scale for each scenario, and the degree of variation was only slightly less in the risk communication formats in which a numeric statement of risk was provided. Subjects were more likely to overestimate than underestimate their risk relative to the stated risk in the numeric versions, and overestimation was associated with the belief that the physician minimized the risk so they wouldn't worry, innumeracy, and worry, as well as decisions about testing for the cancer. These results demonstrate significant gaps between the intended message and the message received in physician risk communications. Implications for medical decisions, patient distress, and future research are discussed.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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