When an individual is called upon to make a major decision due to a serious medical problem, the individual must be in possession of accurate information. He also needs to be careful that he does not overestimate the benefits of the recommended procedure. Only with this information in hand can a proper decision be made.
Perception versus reality
Several studies have been published investigating what people perceive the benefit of a medical treatment is versus what the facts show the benefit is. In all these studies it has been shown that individuals vastly overestimate the benefits of a procedure and greatly underestimate the potential harms.
In a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine researchers reviewed over 30 studies to determine if patients understood the risks and benefits of different medical treatments. Their conclusion was that to a great extent they did not. When questioned, only about 10% of patients stated that their physicians discussed potential harm from the procedure. Without a clear presentation of the facts, a proper decision cannot be made.
The following table is a summary of the medical procedure and the estimated public perception of benefit as published in the Annals of Family Medicine, November 2012:
|Procedure||% of People Overestimating Benefit|
|Colon Cancer Screening||94%|
|Medications for Hip Fractures||82%|
|Medications for Heart Disease||69%|
Participants in this study were also asked to state what the minimal benefit that the procedure needed to achieve in order for them to consider undertaking the procedure. In most cases the minimum benefit stated by the participant was far higher than what the actual benefit was.
In other words if people understood the actual benefits of many procedures most would refuse to undertake them on the basis that they are of such little benefit that they are not worth the risk. As Dr. Michael Greger states in his video, “The Actual Benefit of Diet vs Drugs”: “The medical profession oversells the benefits of drugs for chronic disease since so few patients would apparently take them if doctors divulged the truth.”
The large majority of people do not benefit from even the best drug
Even a high-risk patient has only a 5% chance of gaining any benefit from a drug he is taking for heart disease over a period of 5 years. In other words, there is a 95% chance he will gain no benefit at all but he may still suffer from potentially serious side effects.
Researchers found that the lower limit of acceptable benefit to convince a patient to take that drug for 5 years was 20%. The participants included patients who had just been discharged from a Coronary Care Unit. Once aware of the actual benefit, the large majority of patients would simply refuse treatment because it did not meet the minimal benefit deemed necessary to justify treatment.
You should make absolutely sure that your physician has given you all the facts about a recommended treatment before agreeing to undergo it.
- The New York Times: If Patients Only Knew How Often Treatments Could Harm Them
- Nutrition Facts.org video: The Actual Benefit of Diet Vs Drugs
- Pub Med study abstract (systematic review): Patients’ Expectations of Benefits and Harms of Treatments, Screenings, and Tests
- JAMA Internal Medicine: Patient Perceptions of Benefits and Harms
- Annals of Family Medicine: Patients Expectations of Screening and Preventive Treatments