Homer Simpson, Oncologists, Patients & Math

2nd time this week I’ve linked to a Peter Ubel blog post.  This one was as irresistible as a doughut is to Homer Simpson.

And why is this a shared decision-making issue?  Ubel writes:

“Why all this talk about math with patients?  Shouldn’t all this number stuff be handled by physicians?  Shouldn’t chemotherapy decisions be made by medical experts?

As it turns out, many such decisions depend strongly on patient preferences.  Suppose that chemotherapy increases a patient’s odds of five-year survival from 30% to 35%, but that same chemotherapy also increases the chance that person will die in the next six months, from treatment complications.  Should the patient take this chemotherapy?  There is no simple medical answer to this question.  The answer depends on this individual patient’s preferences for long-term versus short-term survival, with additional consideration for the burdens of chemotherapy.  Making the right decision often means coming to grips with some math.”

Comments (8)

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Elaine Schattner, MD

January 11, 2013 at 3:00 pm

Gary, This post and the Homer cartoon insults oncologists. Why do you publish it?

    Gary Schwitzer

    January 11, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    Because I didn’t think it insulted anyone.

    And because I thought Ubel made an important point about health numeracy.

    Did you write to Ubel and Forbes and ask them why THEY published it?

Gary Fradin

January 14, 2013 at 10:38 am

Relative numbers obfuscate, five year survival rates delude and both confuse. Put everything in base-100 for clarity.

The only question: why haven’t we done that for years?

Gary Fradin

January 14, 2013 at 10:38 am

Relative numbers obfuscate, five year survival rates delude and both confuse. Put everything in base-100 for clarity.

The only question: why haven’t we done that for years?

Greg Pawelski

January 15, 2013 at 10:31 am

As with most human conditions, we need people who can not only talk the relevant language but translate it for the consumption of others who can’t.