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Keeping risk in perspective

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Working in healthcare, it is easy to feel overloaded by the vast amount of information received every day and to rely, instead, on snippets of information to aid understanding.

In reality, little in life is this simple and clinicians must be politically aware and embrace subtlety and complexity to provide useful, relevant support for our patients.

At times, moral and ethical considerations may suggest that what is right for an individual patient may not be in the best interests of the wider patient population or the public as a whole.

Vested interests
Everyone operates with vested interests. The government wants to stay in power, it has to fund healthcare from taxation and be seen to be meeting demand while keeping within allocated resources. Ministers need to keep pharmaceutical companies on-side and are aware of the effects of negative media images. This means that, at times, even national policy may not follow directly from the best available evidence on a subject.

Nurses must have some elementary understanding of statistics and epidemiology in order to interpret research findings (particularly from drug companies). For example, it is critical to understand the difference between relative and absolute risk and to be able to differentiate between short- and long-term risks of treatment decisions.

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