Intended for healthcare professionals


Communicating risks

BMJ 2003; 327 doi: (Published 25 September 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;327:691
  1. Adrian Edwards, reader (
  1. Primary Care Group Swansea Clinical School, University of Wales, Swansea SA2 8PP

    Means that patients too have to learn to live with uncertainty

    The epidemic this year of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) etched another chapter into the annals of risk science. So do all the major “scares”: bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) and its potential effect on humans through variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease; the scare about third generation oral contraceptives in 1995; and the feared link between autism and measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccination. On p 725 Bellaby discusses these particular risks and describes how public reactions that on the face of it may seem irrational in fact have understandable origins.1 Most of this theme issue, however, is concerned not with mass communication about risks but with one to one interactions between healthcare professionals and patients about their individual risks. Clinicians want to know how best to communicate risk to their patients, and this issue aims to help.

    Thus O'Connor et al (p 736) describe how decision aids may help by structuring the way risk information is presented, …

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