Friday, July 31, 2009

Risk Assessment in Healthcare

Bruce Schneier posted an article in his newsletter "Why People Don't Understand Risks" that referred to a piece in the Minneapolis Star on Infant Death and their front page headline "Co-sleeping kills about 20 infants each year" (btw this case is more complex than this headline suggests as there are drugs and alcohol involved - babies have slept with their parents and in their parents beds for hundreds of years and without drugs and alcohol represents the a normal safe way for those that like this idea). As he points out - the article is useless since it provides not context or additional information to draw any kind of
The only problem is that there's no additional information with which to make sense of the statistic.
As was made clear with this cartoon:

the science of extrapolation is not quite that simple

The context is of course the usual for the media - shock value and attention grabbing headlines - in this case the tragic case of an infant death from smothering in their sleep. But nowhere so we see details of
  • How many infants don't die each year?
  • How many infants die each year in separate beds?
  • Is the death rate for co-sleepers greater or less than the death rate for separate-bed sleepers?
And the media is only trotting after the marketing machines in some companies - the latest instance of marketing taking over was featured in this piece on USA Today on Tanning Facilities and needless to say disputed by the "The Sunbed Association" disputes this and says:
"there is no proven link between the responsible use of sunbeds and skin cancer"
Well not according to the latest research published that sunbeds cause melanoma. Well proven links that the more sun or UV you expose your sun to the higher the risk of skin cancer.

And there lies the challenge in assessing risk. Filtering information requires some deep insight and sifting through the veritable tsunamis of available sources which represents a significant challenge for the every day user. The issue of Sudden Infant Death (SIDS) is very emotive and reminds me of the major change promoted some years back that had a big impact on incidence - place the baby on their back not on their front. "Back to Sleep" was the campaign back in 1994

So as you approach the headlines and marketing of technological advances take it with a pinch of salt, ask for all the data. Use the web and resources to research your decision in the same way you would do when you make a major purchase. As we discovered recently in our household - not all ear piercing is created equal.... the Ear Piercing Gun and the mall option at Clare's maybe no a good choice. Item no 3 in this search revealed the problems associated with the Ear Piercing Gun.

What are your experiences. How do you filter information - share your tips and tricks

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