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Improving Cancer Care Decision-Making

When patients are facing a cancer diagnosis, they often need help understanding their treatment options as well as the risks and benefits of each choice. Treatment decisions can become fraught with emotion and cognitive difficulties. In addition, many Americans have low numeracy and health literacy skills. To assist clinicians, here are some strategies that can improve patients’ understanding of the information they’re given: Use plain language. When using written and verbal materials, plain language will be more understandable for patients. Present information in a jargon-free yet respectful way to ensure trust and make messages less ambiguous. Use absolute risks. For example, instead of saying a particular drug will cut their risk in half, say a drug will lower their risk of cancer from 4% to 2%. This information puts the data you’re sharing in better perspective. Inform patients of the exact benefit that may be obtained from using the drug. Use visual aids. Presenting information in pictographs can help people understand the meaning behind the numbers. People learn by different methods. Visualization may make a greater impact than statistics alone. Use frequencies. Presenting risks in frequencies rather than percentages may increase patients’ understanding of their risks. Instead of saying 60% of men who have a certain treatment will have a specific side effect, have them imagine 60 of 100 men in a room having this side effect. Highlight additional risks. Provide patients with additional or incremental risks of treatment from preexisting baseline levels. Ensure that the risk number you’re presenting is the risk due to the treatment and not a risk they would face regardless. Order matters. Preliminary research...
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