A freely available PDF article entitled, Helping Doctors and Patients Make Sense of Health Statistics, may be a great resource for those confused or intimidated by common health-related statistical terms. For example, try to define survival rate, positive predictive value, sensitivity, and specificity. Check the article* to see if your definitions are accurate. You might be surprised. The authors report that “statistical illiteracy” exists among the general public, physicians, and politicians. In my opinion, psychologists are certainly represented in this group too.
Gigerenzer et. al further expand upon important public health related misconceptions that pervade our society and other countries. For example, the “illusion of certainty” describes the public’s emotional need for absolute certainty in health screening tests when none actually exists. Other topics include the paternalistic nature of physician-patient relations, exaggerated perception of treatment effects, how to better understand test results and treatment outcomes, and conflicts of interest within the medical system. The consequences of statistical illiteracy and the need for an educated citizenship in a technologically advanced democracy are described in great detail. The issues are broken down one by one with clear explanations of how to rectify misunderstandings and with suggestions for researchers on how to publish user friendly statistics that lead to more accurate interpretations of the data.
This is a somewhat involved read (44 pages) and may require multiple readings to fully digest the content so set aside adequate time to review this important document.
“Helping Doctors and Patients Make Sense of Health Statistics” is available online at no cost here.
Gigerenzer, G., Gaissmaier, W., Kurz-Milcke, E., Schwartz, L., & Woloshin S. (2008). Helping doctors and patients make sense of health statistics. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 8(2), 53-96.