Communicating Risk to Patients

In nursing practice, risk communication is essential because it allows for shared decision-making between medical personnel and the patient. There are numerous challenges associated with communicating risks to patients, including insufficient numeracy levels of nurses and other health staff, lack of communication skills, and underdeveloped communication strategies. Mr. Ortego’s case, however, presents an additional layer of complexity – because he is diagnosed with dementia, a nurse practitioner should first establish whether or not the patient is capable of making informed decisions.

There are several well-known challenges that arise when communicating risk to patients. First is the lack of adequate numeracy skills among personnel (Naik et al., 2012). Numeracy is critical in nursing because it is a necessary component when interpreting statistical results (Naik et al., 2012). Insufficient knowledge may result in delivering incorrect information to patients. Furthermore, scientific evidence suggests that only 21 percent of well-educated adults are literate in statistics (Naik et al., 2012). It means that the majority of people, including journalists, misinterpret statistical health data (Naik et al., 2012). The goal of the nurses is to provide patients with unbiased information so they can make informed decisions. Another challenge is the availability of communication methods that account for various patient situations, including dementia. When a patient has mental issues, it should be ensured that he or she is aware of all implications.

In summary, there are a plethora of difficulties that may arise when communicating risks to patients. Nurses should have sufficient knowledge to be able to explain the meaning of health statistics accurately. Besides, Mr. Ortego is alert and oriented x3, meaning that he does not know why he was brought to the medical facility. Nurses should be equipped with the necessary communication techniques to overcome these potential barriers.

Because the patient is the sole owner of his or her health, it should be the patient that makes the final decision on whether or not to proceed with a certain procedure. However, it is the medical personnel’s responsibility to make sure that patients have all the required information to be able to make a sound decision. In this context, the role of risk communication is significant – both the patient and the health staff should engage in an open two-way conversation about the potential risks of, for instance, using and not using a particular medicine. Mr. Ortego’s case is about whether or not to proceed with a lumbar puncture. There are potential side effects of this operation that may affect the patient’s well-being (Salzer et al., 2016). Mr. Ortego should be aware of possible implications to be able to make an informed decision.

Risk communicating challenges generally include the lack of communication skills of the health personnel or inadequate knowledge of health statistics. Mr. Ortego’s case is exacerbated by the fact that he is alert and oriented x3, which means he is not fully capable of digesting information. There is no consensus in the scientific community on how to handle such situations (Naik et al., 2012). Also, there are no best practice approaches to risk communication due to a lack of randomized control trials and established testing standards (Naik et al., 2012). These challenges can be overcome by synthesizing the available knowledge in risk communication and educating the health personnel in areas such as health statistics and numeracy.


Naik, G., Ahmed, H., & Edwards, A. G. (2012). Communicating risk to patients and the public. Br J Gen Pract, 62(597), 213-216.

Salzer, J., Rajda, C., Sundström, P., Vågberg, M., Vecsei, L., & Svenningsson, A. (2016). How to minimize the risk for headaches? A lumbar puncture practice questionnaire study. Ideggyogyaszati Szemle, 69(11), 397-402.

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