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Patient Educ Couns. 2012 Nov;89(2):252-9. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2012.07.010. Epub 2012 Aug 1.

The effects of communicating uncertainty in quantitative health risk estimates.

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1
School of Psychology, University of Sydney, NSW, Australia.

Abstract

OBJECTIVE:

To examine the effects of communicating uncertainty in quantitative health risk estimates on participants' understanding, risk perception and perceived credibility of risk information source.

METHODS:

120 first year psychology students were given a hypothetical health-care scenario, with source of risk information (clinician, pharmaceutical company) varied between subjects and uncertainty (point, small range and large range risk estimate format) varied within subjects.

RESULTS:

The communication of uncertainty in the form of both a small and large range resulted in a reduction in accurate understanding and increased perceptions of risk when a large range was communicated compared to a point estimate. It also reduced perceptions of credibility of the information source, though for the clinician this was only the case when a large range was presented.

CONCLUSIONS:

The findings suggest that even for highly educated adults, communicating uncertainty as a range risk estimate has the potential to negatively affect understanding, increase risk perceptions and decrease perceived credibility.

PRACTICE IMPLICATIONS:

Communicating uncertainty in risk using a numeric range should be carefully considered by health-care providers. More research is needed to develop alternative strategies to effectively communicate the uncertainty in health risks to consumers.

PMID:
22858415
DOI:
10.1016/j.pec.2012.07.010
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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