"Numeracy, the “ability to understand and use numbers in daily life” is an important but understudied component of literacy. Numeracy-related tasks are common in healthcare and include understanding nutrition information, interpreting blood sugar readings and other clinical data, adjusting medications, and understanding probability in risk communication. While literacy and numeracy are strongly correlated, we have identified many patients with adequate reading ability but poor numeracy skills." From: Rothman RL, Montori, VM, Cherrington, A and Pignone, MP. Perspective: The Role of Numeracy in Health Care. J Health Commun. 2008 September; 13(6): 583–595.
This article's lead author, Andrea Apter, is a physician who was a math teacher prior to going to medical school. She writes and speaks on understandable ways to communicate numerical information to patients regardless of your chosen health career.
This commentary piece, by Dr. Rima Rudd, Senior Lecturer on Health Literacy, Education, and Policy. Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, written for the National Academy of Medicine, gives a concise perspective on the emerging importance and the imperative of addressing numeracy skills in the healthcare setting.
Discusses tips for effective risk communication as the basis for informed consent. While written for physicians, these tips are applicable to all health professionals.
Make Your Own Icon Array to Communicate Risk
Icon arrays (sometimes referred to as “pictographs”) are an evidence-based standard in medical risk communication. They are more effective than bar or pie charts at communicating risk and reducing cognitive biases in risk perceptions.
• use a matrix of icons (usually 100 or 1000 icons) to represent an at-risk population, and display both the number of expected events and the number of expected non-events.
• can be read simply by counting icons.
• are inherently a frequency-based representation of risk.
• use height as a visual cue for risk.