Open Access Research article

Laypersons' understanding of relative risk reductions: Randomised cross-sectional study

Lene Sorensen12*, Dorte Gyrd-Hansen2, Ivar S Kristiansen23, Jørgen Nexøe2 and Jesper B Nielsen2

Author Affiliations

1 Amgros I/S, Copenhagen, Denmark

2 Institute of Public Health, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark

3 Institute of Health Management and Health Economics, University of Oslo, Norway

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BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making 2008, 8:31  doi:10.1186/1472-6947-8-31

Published: 17 July 2008

Abstract

Background

Despite increasing recognition of the importance of involving patients in decisions on preventive healthcare interventions, little is known about how well patients understand and utilise information provided on the relative benefits from these interventions. The aim of this study was to explore whether lay people can discriminate between preventive interventions when effectiveness is presented in terms of relative risk reduction (RRR), and whether such discrimination is influenced by presentation of baseline risk.

Methods

The study was a randomised cross-sectional interview survey of a representative sample (n = 1,519) of lay people with mean age 59 (range 40–98) years in Denmark. In addition to demographic information, respondents were asked to consider a hypothetical drug treatment to prevent heart attack. Its effectiveness was randomly presented as RRR of 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 or 60 percent, and half of the respondents were presented with quantitative information on the baseline risk of heart attack. The respondents had also been asked whether they were diagnosed with hypercholesterolemia or had experienced a heart attack.

Results

In total, 873 (58%) of the respondents consented to the hypothetical treatment. While 49% accepted the treatment when RRR = 10%, the acceptance rate was 58–60% for RRR>10. There was no significant difference in acceptance rates across respondents irrespective of whether they had been presented with quantitative information on baseline risk or not.

Conclusion

In this study, lay people's decisions about therapy were only slightly influenced by the magnitude of the effect when it was presented in terms of RRR. The results may indicate that lay people have difficulties in discriminating between levels of effectiveness when they are presented in terms of RRR.