Personalized risk info helps patients make better screening decisions

Patients who receive specific personal risk information regarding disease screening make more informed decisions than when they receive information about average risks, according to the results of a Cochrane systematic review.

According to the study, because of the risks associated with screening tests, such as mammography and colonoscopy, getting the active involvement of patients, as well making sure they are well informed should be critical goals for screening programs.

Researchers analyzed data from 41 studies involving 28,700 people, most of whom were candidates for breast or colorectal cancer screening. They were given personalized risk information regarding the tests, some in the form of numerical risk levels, others in the form of lists of risk relevant to them personally.

Three of the studies measured the ability of patients to make informed decisions after receiving personalized risk information. According to the researchers, an informed decision is considered to be one that is consistent between knowledge, attitude and choice. In these studies, 45 percent of the patients made informed choices, compared to 20 percent in a control group who received generic risk information.

"There is strong evidence from these three trials that incorporating personalized risk estimates into communications about screening programs can enhance informed decision-making by patients," lead researcher Adrian Edwards of the Cochrane Institute of Primary Care and Public Health at Cardiff University in Cardiff, Wales, said in an announcement. "However, we need to be careful about generalizing from these results, which are drawn largely from studies in breast and colorectal cancer screening."

To learn more:
- read the study abstract
- see the announcement

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