Book #2: “Helping Patients Understand Risk, 7 Strategies for Successful Communication” (2006). By John Paling, PhD.
You’ll Never Look at Health Risks
the Same Again
This book was suggested to me by Audrey Riffenburgh, MA, of Albuquerque, NM, one of the best plain language health education professionals in the United States. This book may be one of the first to use powerful infographics (before the term became popular) in health education. It’s loaded with infographics that visually inform complex concepts using simple visuals.
Paling’s perspective regarding communication is with the patient in mind, and on making the priority of the communicator to be understood. He clearly explains the significance of relative risk and real risk. One of his greatest contributions is “The 1,000 People” graphic. It’s a box with 1,000 small human figures inside. Real risk means how many people out of the 1,000 will experience the actual result of the risk. That number of small figures is colored in and thus stands out from the rest.
Here’s an example of how it works:
- Imagine you have heart disease and a doctor tells you that you can reduce your risk of death by 50% if you take a pill. The pill does have some pretty strong side effects. Go for it, right? Hold on a minute.
- What if I told you that out of 1,000 people with the same diagnosis, who do not take the pill, four will die in the next year.
- But of the 1,000 people with the same diagnosis who do take the pill, two will die in the next year.
- The 50% reduction in risk is actually an advantage of two people out of 1,000. With that information, you are now a much more accurately informed patient.
- Would you have taken the pill only knowing the relative risk (50% less chance of death)? Or the real risk (four out of 1,000 instead of two out of 1,000)?
Also, according to Dr. Paling, “…once patients see medical risks in the context of other risks of life, they will become even more concerned about understanding their medical choices.”
This book does a good job of addressing our misconceptions of health risks. We’re often too worried about that which will likely never happen, but unaware of very real risk to our health. And being treated as a patient in our health-care system is one of the biggest risks we take with our health.
This book is also about good, basic, inexpensive communication in health-care. John Paling is multi-talented. It was from filming animals that led to his interest in understanding risk, and resulted in his first book, “Up to Your Armpits in Alligators.” Here’s a brief video clip of John opening a presentation.
Check out the other books in The Health & Wellness Promotion 2013 Summer Reading Program – click here.
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Shawn is the President and Founder of Hope Health. For over 30 years, his work has focused on bringing clear, easy-to-read, and watch health messages to the public via workplaces. He bills himself as the “Best C+ Student in the Wellness Biz” because, as he says, “I like to challenge the notion that there is no such thing as a stupid question.” Shawn is on a mission to tie workplaces into their surrounding communities to share resources and ideas in an effort to improve the health of all Americans.
You may reach Shawn at sconnors@HopeHealth.com or 800-334-4094.