Improving data literacy in medicine and clinical research
What do you know about your data anyway? Where did it come from? What is the quality of the evidence? How can you interpret it correctly?
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We read about health literacy and initiatives to improve the understanding of complicated language reserved for discussing medicine. Patients are becoming shared-decision makers and we need to foster and clarify dialogue to improve the translation of research findings, health policy, medical education, and healthcare.
Health literacy measures the ability to comprehend, evaluate, and negotiate the data to make informed healthcare decisions. Although we tend to think of health literacy as central to societal concerns, numeracy crosses both professional and patient populations. For example, peer-reviewed clinical research often discusses risk-benefit analyses without the clarification that “risk” is defined as both benefits and harms. How do we calculate the harms of treatment to arrive at an informed clinical decision central to the patient’s best interests, values, and wishes?
How does numeracy influence standard care? What does the data show us about screening healthy individuals upstream from actual medical necessity? What do the “results” in technical medical literature really tell us? Is the message scrambled by the media? We can’t consistently blame the pharmaceutical industry. They don’t write the prescriptions—doctors do. Let’s improve numeracy in medicine.