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Expert shares innovative lessons in communicating risk

ORLANDO, Fla. — In a keynote address to attendees of the 23rd Annual North American Menopause Society meeting, Vincent T. Covello, PhD, from the Center for Risk Communications in New York, highlighted the importance of developing new ways to communicate risk to patients in all arenas.

Covello, who has worked primarily on crisis and emergency risk communication, said risk communication is a science-based discipline. There are a number of other subfields of risk communications, like health, safety, and environmental; organizational change; economic; political; military; and marital/relationship, he added.

“A risk is defined as a threat or a loss — real or perceived,” Covello said. “Now that we can map the brain, we can actually do simulated experiments in laboratories where we create artificial high stress. We can actually watch brain processing information in a simulated high-stress environment. It’s led to an incredible number of conclusions in a very short period of time,” Covello said.

He cited various books and articles on the brain and how it can become overloaded with information.

“There are two dangers in communication: too little and too much. It’s very easy to say to a person, ‘no,’ or ‘it’s complex.’ It takes a lot more time to say it is ‘maybe,’” Covello said.

In most stress situations, the information is processed in a different part of the brain. This often results in different outcomes, he said.

“My focus in my research is on how people process information in high-stress situations, such as when they’re making a very difficult decision on HT or menopause,” Covello said.

Covello added that the visual part of the brain becomes activated during high-stress situations. Using visuals in clinical practice is an effective risk communication tool Covello said.

In addition to visual tools, Covello suggested that providers address uncertainties, explain that risks are often hard to weigh or assess, discuss how risks were developed and announce problems when appropriate. He also said to share information when risks are certain, nearly certain, are not known, may never be known, are likely or unlikely, or are highly improbable. By telling patients what can be done to reduce the uncertainty, providers can design communication strategies helpful to them and their patients.

For more information:

Covello VT. Keynote address: Understanding & communicating risk. Presented at: the North American Menopause Society 23rd Annual Meeting; Oct. 3-6, 2012; Orlando.

Disclosure: Covello has no relevant financial disclosures.

ORLANDO, Fla. — In a keynote address to attendees of the 23rd Annual North American Menopause Society meeting, Vincent T. Covello, PhD, from the Center for Risk Communications in New York, highlighted the importance of developing new ways to communicate risk to patients in all arenas.

Covello, who has worked primarily on crisis and emergency risk communication, said risk communication is a science-based discipline. There are a number of other subfields of risk communications, like health, safety, and environmental; organizational change; economic; political; military; and marital/relationship, he added.

“A risk is defined as a threat or a loss — real or perceived,” Covello said. “Now that we can map the brain, we can actually do simulated experiments in laboratories where we create artificial high stress. We can actually watch brain processing information in a simulated high-stress environment. It’s led to an incredible number of conclusions in a very short period of time,” Covello said.

He cited various books and articles on the brain and how it can become overloaded with information.

“There are two dangers in communication: too little and too much. It’s very easy to say to a person, ‘no,’ or ‘it’s complex.’ It takes a lot more time to say it is ‘maybe,’” Covello said.

In most stress situations, the information is processed in a different part of the brain. This often results in different outcomes, he said.

“My focus in my research is on how people process information in high-stress situations, such as when they’re making a very difficult decision on HT or menopause,” Covello said.

Covello added that the visual part of the brain becomes activated during high-stress situations. Using visuals in clinical practice is an effective risk communication tool Covello said.

In addition to visual tools, Covello suggested that providers address uncertainties, explain that risks are often hard to weigh or assess, discuss how risks were developed and announce problems when appropriate. He also said to share information when risks are certain, nearly certain, are not known, may never be known, are likely or unlikely, or are highly improbable. By telling patients what can be done to reduce the uncertainty, providers can design communication strategies helpful to them and their patients.

For more information:

Covello VT. Keynote address: Understanding & communicating risk. Presented at: the North American Menopause Society 23rd Annual Meeting; Oct. 3-6, 2012; Orlando.

Disclosure: Covello has no relevant financial disclosures.

    Perspective
    Sarah Howe

    Sarah Howe

    I thought it was a great presentation because some of the ideas discussed, I’ve never thought about before. I am notoriously bad about giving my patients loads of information because I want them to know the latest study data on benefits and risks. Perhaps I’m throwing too much at my patients, is what I took away from the presentation.

    I’m already thinking how I want to go home and revamp what I’m telling my patients and how I’m presenting it. One of the things Covello mentioned was using visual aids. I think that’s huge; you put pictures to something and people get it. My plan is to go home and share this information with the physicians, nurse practitioners and physician assistants in my practice. I know we all do things differently, but I don’t know if anyone else has thought of how they present their information.

    Also, I believe it’s going to be difficult to present that information in a caring way as well as in a timely manner. To address all of those things and to get patients the information they need —  the risks, the benefits — I think is going to be difficult. I am really worried now that they’re not getting everything they need to know.

    • Sarah Howe, CNPWH
    • Provider, Blanchard Valley Women’s Care Findlay, OH

    Disclosures: Howe has no relevant financial disclosures.

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