AMA Journal of Ethics®

Illuminating the art of medicine

Journal of Ethics Header

AMA Journal of Ethics®

Illuminating the art of medicine

Virtual Mentor. January 2013, Volume 15, Number 1.

Ethics Poll

Statistical Evidence and Medical Decision Making

The Ethics Poll is a snapshot of the opinions of interested readers.

Your doctor tells you that you have unhealthy levels of cholesterol and says that, for patients in your situation, he typically recommends treatment with a drug known as a statin, which helps lower bad cholesterol. He then goes on to say that the number of people in your condition–high cholesterol but otherwise good health–who would have to be treated with a statin in order to prevent one death from a cardiovascular event is between 60 and 100. This statistic is known as the number needed to treat. Would this information on the number needed to treat change your decision about whether or not to take a statin drug?
Yes.
No.
Don’t know.

You have been diagnosed with a particular form of leukemia. The physician has statistical information based on thousands of patients who have had this form of leukemia and can state the probability of your survival, given the recommended treatment. Do you want to know what the probability is?
Yes.
No.
Don’t know.

Your parent or child has been diagnosed with a particular form of leukemia. The physician has statistical information based on thousands of patients who have had this form of leukemia and can state the probability of your parent's or child's survival, given the recommended treatment. Do you want to know what the probability of your parent’s or childt’s survival is?
Yes.
No.
Don’t know.

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