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Study: Many doctors misinterpret statistics

October 16, 2008 by  

Doctors do not always understand medical statisticsWith something as serious as your health at stake, you might expect doctors to be able to look at medical research data and produce meaningful results for patients.

A new study, published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, may cause you to think again.

The report describes various scenarios in which medical professionals have significantly misinterpreted statistics relating to the effects of drugs, behaviors and procedures.

For example, a pill backed up by research that promises to "double" the chances of a full recovery from an illness may mean raising the figure from one in 10,000 to two in 10,000 – but not all healthcare professionals understand the meaning behind the numbers.

"Many doctors, patients, journalists, and politicians alike do not understand what health statistics mean," the authors write, according to ABC News.

The researchers describe a situation of "statistical illiteracy" that they say is endemic in healthcare, for both patients and physicians.

In one scenario, a group of doctors was presented with a set of figures and asked to estimate the chances that a patient who tested positive for colorectal cancer actually had the disease. Many were unable to do so correctly.
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