Imagine in buying a bicycle you are forced to sign multiple sheets with statements like “use of this equipment could result in injury or death; use is entirely at your discretion and at your own risk.” Since you know how you are going to use the bike and have experience with its risks, you chuckle and sign the form.
But now go somewhere for “minor” surgery and you are staring at the same kinds of vague phrases. This procedure can cause death, it says. Well shoot, I didn’t come here to die, you think, that isn’t the point and so you sign.
Unlike bike and car accidents that you see reported on the paper and where statistics show up a lot–and bike and car riding experience we often have–medical problems are serious black boxes. How often does a nose job go bad? How about joint repair? So we all guess that it can’t be that bad of this wouldn’t be done.
But an accident happens and you do die. The doctors and hospital say you agreed to the risk. But did you really?
In GG’s opinion, no. Without some estimate of the level of risk, these statements provide almost no information. Sure you could die. The doctor in the middle of the procedure could too. Hell, the building could collapse and kill everybody participating.
What would work? Maybe for a main form something like “odds of dying from this procedure are about the same as dying from a lightning strike this year” and then actual numbers on a separate page if desired.
Frankly the more places where more quantitative statistics appear, the more likely people start to understand them. And the more we comprehend the statistics of risks, the better we as a society will be at managing and balancing risk. So next time your doctor shoves one of these bland sheets at you, ask just what fraction of his patients die from this. Or are crippled.