Critiques of the risk concept: valid or not?

Jørgen Nexøe, Peder Andreas Halvorsen, Ivar Sønbø Kristiansen

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


The increasing use of the risk concept in healthcare has caused concern among medical doctors, especially general practitioners (GPs). Critics have claimed that risk identification and intervention create unfounded anxiety, that the concept of risk is not useful at the individual patient level, that patients' risk concept is different from an epidemiological one, that resources are better spent elsewhere, or that commercial interests take advantage of risk information to promote sales. In this paper the authors discuss the concept of risk and address the critique. There is evidence that commercial interests promote risk interventions, that patients may misunderstand risk information, and that risk information can cause unnecessary anxiety. The authors have found no empirical data on the amount of time primary healthcare providers spend on risk interventions, and have not identified any valid arguments that risk information is not useful for the individual patient. Decision-making under uncertainty is a core element of medical practice, and GPs need to be suitably trained to inform patients such that they make good decisions when they are faced with uncertainty. The concept of risk is therefore useful for GPs, and in fact a key issue. It is concluded that risk critique should be based on sound theory and empirical data. Critics may do well in making clear distinctions between facts and value judgements
Original languageEnglish
JournalScandinavian Journal of Public Health
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)648-654
Publication statusPublished - 6. Sep 2007


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