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Red Light, Green Light: Helping Patients Weigh the Evidence

Wednesday, August 27, 2014
by Geri Lynn Baumblatt, MA, & Casey Quinlan
Casey Quinlan, who contributed to this post, is a patient advocate, hospital medicine journalist, citizen scientist, 2013 MedX ePatient Scholar, speaker, writer, and healthcare policy wonk dedicated to putting the patient, and the patient's voice, at the center of healthcare.

Patients and families often have to wade through a flood of information about the latest in medical science. And especially when in the hospital, they often need to try to understand the pros and cons of treatments without time for research and while they’re in pain or recovering from a procedure.

Here’s a tool you can use as you partner with them to help them to understand the evidence: NNT = Number Needed to Treat.

The site uses stoplight graphics - red, yellow, and green - to show the scientific evidence of the benefit, or lack thereof, of treatments, diagnoses, and risk assessments. There’s also a black label for if the harms outweigh the benefits. The site authors are all practicing emergency medicine or critical care MDs.

For example: Cardiac defibrillation prevents death in 38% of cases where it’s used (green light all the way); Coronary bypass has no effect on 10 year survival post-heart-attack in 96% of cases (yellow light, needs more study); Aspirin to prevent a first heart attack or stroke has no benefit in 99.94% of cases (red light, don’t bother).

This is just one tool that can augment conversations and help patients and families get a better understanding, so they have fewer deer-in-the-headlights moments when facing treatment decisions.

Tags: patient engagement, shared decision making
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