Last Updated on Sunday, 22 April 2012 21:50
Written by Elisa Barilli- University of Trento
Risk communication can be considered effective when the risk becomes meaningful to the audience, namely when it can be evaluated. The formats used to convey risk (i.e. probabilities, verbal labels or graphic devices) are not neutral, because some may have the effect of increasing the perceived probability connected with the risk while others lower this perception.
Effective risk communication
Specialists dealing with patients should be
informed of the consequences of adopting one type of communication
rather than another on the patient’s perception. This comes from the
need to ensure that patients fully understand the risks they are facing
in order to make sound decisions regarding their health.
Risk communication in prenatal diagnosis
In risk communication related to prenatal diagnosis, as in all fields
of medicine, doctors should inform patients of the different risks
related to pregnancy, for example:
- the risk of having a child affected by a chromosomal anomaly
(e.g. Down Syndrome, Turner Syndrome) increases with age. Women are
usually advised of their risk as a “1 in X” possibility.
risk of transmitting either parent’s genetic disease (e.g. Cystic
Fibrosis) to the foetus should be communicated (e.g. there is a “1 in 4
risk that your child is a CF carrier”)
- the increase in the
risk is also communicated when patients have to choose whether to carry
out invasive prenatal diagnosis (e.g. for amniocentesis, the risk of
miscarriage as a result of the procedure is 1 in 100).
- risk is also communicated when a chromosomal anomaly is detected in the form of a mosaic (e.g. in 6 cases out of 20).
tests entail a certain risk of false positive and negative results
(e.g. in 0.2% of cases the test detects an anomaly when no anomaly is
A new tutorial providing information about
effective ways of communicating probability to patients in order to
allow them to “attach meaning to numbers” has been realised, partially
with the financial support of a 5 year grant from the European
Commission (“Special Advances in Foetal and neo-natal Evaluation
network”- SAFE- Project N°: LSHB-CT-2004-503243).
Who is the tutorial for?
The tutorial is directed at:
- health service staff;
- all institutions in charge of clinical education.
How is it structured?
The web tutorial includes 4 interactive units, each one dedicated to a specific type of communication technique:
- Numerical Techniques
- Verbal Labels and Comparison Scenario Techniques
- Mental Imagery Techniques and the framing effect
- Graphic Techniques
The different units have been realised on the
basis of the existing psychological literature on risk communication
The content is illustrated using visually striking cartoons and audio
effects. Practical examples of the application of such techniques to
specific cases of communication in clinical practice are included, as
well as multiple-choice questions to help users to evaluate the
Who is responsible for the content?
The work has been carried out by four EU research groups:
- University of Trento, Italy: L. Savadori, E. Barilli, S. Pighin.
- University of Zurich, Switzerland: M. Siegrist, C. Keller, P. Orlow
- Leon Kozminski Academy of Entrepreneurship and Management, Poland: T. Tyszka
- École Pratique des Hautes Etudes, France: E.Mullet
Validity and Efficacy Tests
The training tool will be tested for face validity
and for efficacy. The face validity test implies some expert physicians
and a sample of parents of children with disabilities completing the
tutorial in order to give their suggestions, especially regarding the
plausibility of the situations described and the applicability to daily
practice. A more standard test will also be conducted on tutorial
efficacy. The degree of competence obtained in communicating risk by
medical students asked to follow the tutorial will be compared with
that of a control group that will not be asked to follow the tutorial.
Where can the tutorial be accessed?
The free Web-tutorial is available on-line at the following URL: