Medical Pictures Are More Powerful Than Words

Armen Hareyan's picture

When conveying important information about the benefits of a medication to patients, pictures appear to be more powerful than words.

A study of 100 patients with cardiovascular disease finds that 57 percent prefer information about the risks and benefits of treatment be presented graphically. Other ways of expressing risk and benefit were less popular among study participants. Only 19 percent preferred information expressed as relative risk, 13 percent preferred absolute risk, 9 percent preferred natural frequencies, and only one patient preferred the information be presented in terms of an odds ratio.


Notably, no patients preferred number needed to treat, a method for communicating risk and benefit that is very useful to clinicians. The authors assert that these findings support the need for the development of visual aids to support shared clinical decision making.

An accompanying editorial by Spiegelhalter highlights one of the essential elements of primary care - living with uncertainty - and explains why there is uncertainty both for doctors and patients. He explains that physicians' attempts to clarify things inevitably bump up against the fundamental truth of clinical care: there is no answer, only a series of choices that change with time, information and human unpredictability.

Patients Prefer Pictures to Numbers to Express Cardiovascular Benefit From Treatment
By Felicity Goodyear-Smith, M.B.Ch.B., M.G.P., F.R.N.Z.C.G.P., et al

Understanding Uncertainty
By David J. Spiegelhalter, Ph.D., F.R.S.