Laypersons' understanding of relative risk reductions: randomised cross-sectional study

Lene Sorensen, Dorte Gyrd-Hansen, Ivar S Kristiansen, Jørgen Nexøe, Jesper B Nielsen

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


BACKGROUND: Despite increasing recognition of the importance of involving patients in decisions on preventive healthcare interventions, little is known about how well patients understand and utilise information provided on the relative benefits from these interventions. The aim of this study was to explore whether lay people can discriminate between preventive interventions when effectiveness is presented in terms of relative risk reduction (RRR), and whether such discrimination is influenced by presentation of baseline risk. METHODS: The study was a randomised cross-sectional interview survey of a representative sample (n = 1,519) of lay people with mean age 59 (range 40-98) years in Denmark. In addition to demographic information, respondents were asked to consider a hypothetical drug treatment to prevent heart attack. Its effectiveness was randomly presented as RRR of 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 or 60 percent, and half of the respondents were presented with quantitative information on the baseline risk of heart attack. The respondents had also been asked whether they were diagnosed with hypercholesterolemia or had experienced a heart attack. RESULTS: In total, 873 (58%) of the respondents consented to the hypothetical treatment. While 49% accepted the treatment when RRR = 10%, the acceptance rate was 58-60% for RRR>10. There was no significant difference in acceptance rates across respondents irrespective of whether they had been presented with quantitative information on baseline risk or not. CONCLUSION: In this study, lay people's decisions about therapy were only slightly influenced by the magnitude of the effect when it was presented in terms of RRR. The results may indicate that lay people have difficulties in discriminating between levels of effectiveness when they are presented in terms of RRR.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making
Pages (from-to)31
Publication statusPublished - 2008


  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Decision Making
  • Denmark
  • Diagnostic Techniques and Procedures
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Hypercholesterolemia
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Myocardial Infarction
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care
  • Primary Prevention
  • Research Design
  • Risk Reduction Behavior


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