Healthcare News & Insights

Patient paranoia: Odds are new site makes it worse

Get ready for more paranoid patients and rousing trivia contests in the break rooms. A new “all-factoid” site provides plenty of ammunition for both.

The just-launched Book of Odds, is a massive compendium of data on virtually any imaginable topic. Unlike user-generated sites like Wikipedia, the data presented on the site is researched, sources are noted and links are provided.

In addition to longer posts on recent research, the site presents quick-hit “odds statements” such as, “The odds a child younger than 18 in fair or poor health has asthma are 1 in 2.52.”

For health care providers, the site could be both a blessing and a curse. It’s a handy research tool for specific data useful for clinicians. A recent search under “health care” brought up studies on hospital-acquired infections, emergency room wait times and the latest premature birth rates.

But the site’s breadth of topics, and context-free “odds statements” could run the risk of providing patients with just enough knowledge to scare themselves silly. For instance, some of the recently featured odds statements included humdingers like:

  • The odds a person 35 or older has coronary heart disease are 1 in 5.98
  • The odds a female will ever be diagnosed with breast cancer are 1 in 8.28, and
  • The odds a singleton baby will die during infancy of sudden infant death syndrome are 1 in 1666; The odds for a singleton baby born to a woman age 18 to 19 are 1 in 802.

Will the Book of Odds end up being a useful tool for health care providers, or a source of confusion and anxiety for patients — whom health care providers then have to talk off the proverbial ledge? Let us hear your thoughts.

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  1. Thanks for the post about Book of Odds!

    Book of Odds is not intended to be a replacement for expert medical advice but rather a site dedicated to trying to increase the understanding and tolerance of risk.

    Relating to your point about “scaring patients silly,” I would like to clarify a few things:

    First is that Book of Odds takes its research very seriously. We intend to be 100% transparent and every Odds Statement page provides information on exactly where we get the data, as well as how confident we are in the data. While some of the statistics might be scary, they are always as accurate as the data allows. We want to be a resource health care providers can direct their patients to and be confident that the information is reliable.

    In addition, we hope to provide a context that is not generally provided with most health care statistics. By organizing our information in a uniform and easily accessible manner, people have the ability to relate all of our statistics to one another. This will allow people to relate unfamiliar things like cancer risk to things they experience everyday such as eating breakfast. We hope this will allow patients and doctors to put risk into perspective and make more informed decisions.

    We have had a lot of positive feedback from both doctors and patients to date and we welcome more comments and discussion.

    Thanks again for the post!

    • Carol Katarsky says:

      @Benjamin: I have no doubt the site is accurate and will do far more good than harm — more information is always better. I was referring to the small minority of people who will inevitably take some of that data and immediately go to the worst case scenario in their heads.

      Of course that doesn’t mean the site isn’t useful — but people have to use it properly, too.

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