Clinical care is risky. Untreated illness carries risk, treatments carry risk and screening procedures bring risks. For a patient to know if a treatment, procedure or screening test is worthwhile, they need to understand these risks, as well as having a clear idea of the chances of benefiting from the intervention in the first place.
The precise communication of risk, in terms that patients can understand, is not an easy task. Research shows that clinicians rarely achieve it. Either we dodge the issue altogether (“I’m not too worried about that in your case”) or we use imprecise words (“the risk is very small”).
In some consultations, this is fine – some patients are happy with this approach. But given the increased emphasis on management of chronic diseases and fully informed consent for surgery, treatment and screening, it will pay us to be able to offer enhanced accuracy.