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Open Access Highly Accessed Debate

Medical concepts related to individual risk are better explained with "plausibility" rather than "probability"

Enzo Grossi

Author Affiliations

Medical Department, Bracco SpA Milan, Italy

BMC Cardiovascular Disorders 2005, 5:31  doi:10.1186/1471-2261-5-31

Published: 27 September 2005

Abstract

Background

The concept of risk has pervaded medical literature in the last decades and has become a familiar topic, and the concept of probability, linked to binary logic approach, is commonly applied in epidemiology and clinical medicine. The application of probability theory to groups of individuals is quite straightforward but can pose communication challenges at individual level. Few articles by the way have tried to focus the concept of "risk" at the individual subject level rather than at population level.

Discussion

The author has reviewed the conceptual framework which has led to the use of probability theory in the medical field in a time when the principal causes of death were represented by acute disease often of infective origin.

In the present scenario, in which chronic degenerative disease dominate and there are smooth transitions between health and disease the use of fuzzy logic rather than binary logic would be more appropriate. The use of fuzzy logic in which more than two possible truth-value assignments are allowed overcomes the trap of probability theory when dealing with uncertain outcomes, thereby making the meaning of a certain prognostic statement easier to understand by the patient.

Summary

At individual subject level the recourse to the term plausibility, related to fuzzy logic, would help the physician to communicate to the patient more efficiently in comparison with the term probability, related to binary logic. This would represent an evident advantage for the transfer of medical evidences to individual subjects.