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Know Your Chances: Understanding Health Statistics Paperback – November 30, 2008

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 158 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; 1 edition (November 30, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520252225
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520252226
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 7 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #192,154 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

"How to see through the hype in medical news, ads, and public service announcements" boasts the cover of this accessible and reader-friendly book by Dartmouth Medical School faculty and researchers Woloshin, Lisa M. Schwartz, M.D., and H. Gilbert Welch, M.D. (Should I Be Tested for Cancer?). Assaulted by incomplete, misleading, and overstated health messages by the media, health journals, and pharmaceutical companies, the general public is poorly prepared in how to read the information critically, how to assess credible evidence, and how to interpret statistics. The authors here set out to correct these shortcomings by explaining how to understand risk, judge the benefit of health interventions, and consider outcomes. The subject is complex, but the text is short and simple. Quick, useful quizzes complete coverage and verify that the reader has understood the material. "Learn More" boxes provide easy opportunities to investigate a subject in more detail. A "Quick Summary," glossary, and "Credible Sources of Health Statistics" section are helpful in presenting the basic skills necessary in navigating today's confusing health-media landscape. Recommended for all libraries.—James Swanton, Harlem Hosp. Lib., New York
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“Short and simple. . . . . Present(s) the basic skills necessary in navigating today’s confusing health-media landscape. “
(Library Journal 2008-08-26)

“ Delightful and educational reading, simple enough for laypeople to understand yet academic enough to meet the needs of . . . . students.”
(L. Synovitz Choice 2009-07-01)

“Know Your Chances is an accessible and empowering text.”
(Journal Of Biosocial Science 2011-02-07)

“A great reminder that . . . medical claims should always be evaluated by how they affect you and your current state of health.”
(Tampa Tribune 2008-12-20)

“A great reminder that . . . medical claims should always be evaluated by how they affect you and your current state of health.”
(Highlands Today 2008-12-20)

“Read this book first and then think again.”
(Time Magazine 2009-03-26)

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Customer Reviews

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It's an amazing book and is very easy to understand.
S. Beauchamp
I found this book so useful that I bought copies of the book for all of the members of my family.
Also the outcome of an intervention must be distinguished from a treatment's benefit.
Rick Evans

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Rick Evans on January 18, 2009
Format: Paperback
As the medical care industry consumes larger proportions of the U.S. GDP we are bombarded by a rising number of messages from pharmaceutical companies,medical device suppliers, hospitals, medical specialists and activists seeking attention for their medical services and causes. Adding to these advertisements are medical reporters trying to attract eyeballs to their print or electronic news media.

Often these messages are accompanied by numbers intended to cast an amplifying light onto the message or simply parroted by "health reporters" too lazy to interpret data into a less misleading or alarmist form.

Know Your Chances: Understanding Health Statistics is a fast read, only 113 pages, that takes the reader step by step through what it takes to put these numbers into perspective. Why, for example is it true that the risk for being struck with colon cancer is both 5 out of 10000 and 1 out of 19. The difference between the two is time frame which is often omitted from the message.

Naked percentages are another abuse of numbers often appearing in messages. Activists will often use large percentages of small populations to suggest a big change while a corporation might use a small percentage of a large population to play down danger. Both are misleading but common.

The authors define risk in the first chapter and show the reader how to put it into perspective in chapters 2 and 3. This foundation is important as it shows how the oft cited lifetime population or annual population risk is not the same as individual risk. Lifestyle, family and medical history greatly influence individual risk.

The benefits of "health intervention" are tackled in chapters 4 and 5.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Vickie Venne on February 2, 2009
Format: Paperback
If I were in charge of store displays, I would require that this book would be prominently presented for sale next to every pharmacy in this country. And I would recommend that every person who takes any medicine read it. This book is a terrific, easy to read resource for anyone who wants to make truly informed decisions regarding the risks and benefits of their personal health situation. In this technologically sophisticated age, we want to believe that those highly marketed drugs improve our health - both when we are sick and when we are trying to prevent disease. As a genetic counselor who works with families who have an increased risk of developing cancers, I spend much of my clinical time helping them understand their risk of disease and management options to reduce that risk. Many procedures and drugs do help certain people, but this book will help you understand if the drug or procedure will make a significant difference - or if you (or your third party payor) will be spending lots of money for only a little benefit. In addition, as our country continues to deal with a health care system that desperately needs to be fixed, this primer will be important for everyone who participates in the policy conversations to gain a better understanding of the way in which hype about medical risks and benefits often confuses the discussion.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Cathy Goodwin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 28, 2009
Format: Paperback
Discussions of health care reform tend to focus on who pays for care. This book is a much-needed reminder to address an even more important question: Why are we struggling to pay for treatments and drugs that may not be accomplishing anything?

The authors walk us through a discussion of risk with detailed examples and illustrations. Sure, it's a little simple, but not everyone has studied statistics. I've had graduate-level stats courses and I found the discussions helpful and enlightening.

What's really scary is that we're exposed to hype in news reports, which often seem to come directly from press releases of the pharmaceutical companies. I wonder how many MDs read these statistics without understanding what's going on.

Even worse, we're getting propaganda from medical institutions. The authors show a misleading flyer from the prestigious M.D. Anderson Health Center in Houston.

My favorite part of the book is the discussion on survival rates. If you're diagnosed early you may not get an extra day of life. You just live with the knowledge longer.

I can't help wondering if the millions of dollars we're spending on drugs claiming to lower cholesterol and reduce hypertension might not be better spent on healthy food, exercise and stress reduction. As the authors point out, we need evidence that people with better "numbers" really live longer and experience less suffering. We also need evidence that these drugs really contribute to meaningful outcomes, not just lower numbers.

Just this morning the Wall Street Journal solemnly reported a drug that promised to lower "prostate cancer risk" by 23% among a large sample of high-risk men. Following the guidelines of this book, it was easy to spot flaws.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By G. Poirier on February 24, 2009
Format: Paperback
This book is absolutely superb! The authors do an excellent job in bringing the often complicated field of medical statistics to a level that any interested layperson can easily understand. In addition to going through many examples that illustrate how important it is to ask the right questions when confronted with often sketchy statements about survival rates, death rates, drug performances, etc., they show how useful information may be sought and interpreted. This information may then be used by the interested individuals to make decisions about what to do in their own specific cases. The book includes a glossary, risk charts for women and men (with information on how to read them) and many other useful features. The writing style is clear, friendly, engaging and authoritative while remaining jargon-free. Because of this, the book is accessible to a very broad readership. In addition, this book can be considered as another important contribution to the fight against innumeracy. It can be enjoyed and used by anyone.
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