July 7, 2014

THE ROBOT WILL KNOW THE RIGHT ANSWER:

Do doctors understand test results? (William Kremer, 7/05/14, BBC World Service)

[Gerd] Gigerenzer, director of the Harding Center for Risk Literacy in Berlin, is an expert in uncertainty and decision-making. His new book, Risk Savvy, takes aim at health professionals for not giving patients the information they need to make choices about healthcare.

But it's not just that doctors and dentists can't reel off the relevant stats for every treatment option. Even when the information is placed in front of them, Gigerenzer says, they often can't make sense of it.

In 2006 and 2007 Gigerenzer gave a series of statistics workshops to more than 1,000 practising gynaecologists, and kicked off every session with the same question:

A 50-year-old woman, no symptoms, participates in routine mammography screening. She tests positive, is alarmed, and wants to know from you whether she has breast cancer for certain or what the chances are. Apart from the screening results, you know nothing else about this woman. How many women who test positive actually have breast cancer? What is the best answer?

nine in 10
eight in 10
one in 10
one in 100

Gigerenzer then supplied the assembled doctors with some data about Western women of this age to help them answer his question. (His figures were based on US studies from the 1990s, rounded up or down for simplicity - current stats from Britain's National Health Service are slightly different).

The probability that a woman has breast cancer is 1% ("prevalence")

If a woman has breast cancer, the probability that she tests positive is 90% ("sensitivity")

If a woman does not have breast cancer, the probability that she nevertheless tests positive is 9% ("false alarm rate")

In one session, almost half the group of 160 gynaecologists responded that the woman's chance of having cancer was nine in 10. Only 21% said that the figure was one in 10 - which is the correct answer. That's a worse result than if the doctors had been answering at random.
Posted by at July 7, 2014 5:54 AM
  
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