What does the evidence say about risk communication?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has published a new report that’s right up our alley. It’s called Communicating Risks and Benefits: An Evidence-Based User’s Guide.

The introduction offers an explanation of evidence-based health communications that we believe should be the standard for all organizations, from corporations to government agencies to universities.

“…Sound communications must be evidence-based in two related ways. One is that communications should be consistent with the science — and not do things known not to work nor ignore known problems. The second is communications should be evaluated — because even the best science cannot guarantee results. Rather, the best science produces the best-informed best guesses about how well communications will work. However, even these best guesses can miss the mark, meaning that they must be evaluated to determine how good they are and how they can be improved.”

The report goes onto address the concept of communicating risks and benefits across a wide range of fields – in health provider settings, news coverage and corporate communications to name a few – and offer practical tips about using evidence in all sorts of communications.

Cornell’s own Valerie Reyna, whom we’ve written about before, authored Chapter 12 about communicating risks and benefits to people of all ages, and her work is extensively quoted in other chapters of the report.

The report is chock-full of useful recommendations.  Among them are:

  • Health professionals should receive specific training on how to communicate the risks and benefits of medical procedures and medicines.
  • Provide information along with explaining meaning to help consumers make good decisions.
  • Test the readability of health care messages to ensure they use plain language.

If you work in the field of health care, this report is a must-read!


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