Improving understanding of evidence by patients and policymakers, including during COVID-19

COVID-19 pandemic (credit: Matteo Jorjoson/Unsplash)

Researchers at the Winton Centre for Risk & Evidence Communication work on the communication of quantitative evidence transparently and without bias. This has led to greater understanding and supported decision making by improving the ways that evidence is presented and communicated to patients, the general public and health professionals.

To make informed decisions about treatments or policies, clear information is needed by the public, patients, clinicians and policymakers about potential harms and benefits of different options, and the quality of the evidence underlying this information. The aim of researchers at the Winton Centre is to make these potential risks and benefits clear through communication, as well as to develop tools and training, in order to increase decision-making confidence.

For instance, the Winton Centre carried out qualitative work with clinicians and past patients, and quantitative work with members of the public, to test their needs and understanding of the statistics used in NHS Predict, an algorithm that calculates the likely benefits from different cancer treatment options (developed by Professor Paul Pharoah at the University of Cambridge, 2010). The website is used around 35,000 times per month worldwide by clinicians in consultation with people diagnosed with early-stage breast and prostate cancers to inform their choice of therapy.

Communicating quantitative evidence around COVID-19 to the public, patients and policymakers has been a focus since March 2020. David Spiegelhalter was part of the team that developed the QCovid risk stratification model, which calculates a personalised score for people based on their risk factors for COVID-19, especially the importance of age, to inform political decision-making.

Spiegelhalter also gave weekly briefings to the press via the UK Science Media Centre about the COVID-19 statistics and how they should be interpreted, resulting in more accurate coverage of the statistics in at least 130 articles, reaching millions of people.

The team has also developed eLearning courses in risk communication for healthcare professionals and students, which have been assessed and endorsed by Royal Colleges. The courses are freely available on the National Health Service (NHS) eLearning for Healthcare platform, enabling many NHS staff to increase their knowledge and confidence in evidence and risk communication.

“Thank you so much for the only thoroughly clear analysis you provided on BBC Television this morning. A 94-year old in isolation, I had been seeking, without success, some specific guidance from Government as it applies to people in the same circumstances as myself.”

– Email received by David Spiegelhalter