Monday, November 17, 2008

Making Sense of Health Statistics, part 2

Well, wouldn't you know it??

A perfect example of Saturday's post just arose: Today’s NY Times discusses a “large new study” of Crestor, a statin, involving 17,800 patients. Well, let's take what we learned the other day.

The Times editorial reports that Crestor has dramatic benefits - 54% fewer heart attacks, etc. And the writer correctly asks, “Who should take statins?”

But these “relative risk reduction” numbers (percent reduction) are exactly what Making Sense warns against: what are the raw numbers? We don't know, so from what they wrote, we can't tell whether there's improvement for one person in five or one person in 5,000.

This is not to say we shouldn’t use statins. The whole point is that the Times piece doesn’t give us enough information to know.

And Making Sense argues that without such information, the whole concept of informed consent is a fiction.

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