A new national survey of nearly 3,000 people reveals that many Americans have an unrealistic understanding of the FDA drug approval process. Approximately 4 out of 10 mistakenly believe that the agency approves only highly effective medications. Another 25 percent wrongly assume that only drugs without serious side effects are allowed on the market.
When given the opportunity to choose between two hypothetical heart drugs, half the volunteers selected a drug that just lowered cholesterol over a medication that actually reduced the risk of having a heart attack. The authors did find that simple explanations can help consumers make more informed decisions about medications and that the FDA should improve its communication about how well drugs work.
[Archives of Internal Medicine, Sept. 12, 2011]

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  1. dp

    Ask any one who does research and they will agree that with statistics, one can “torture the numbers until they confess”! Unless one reads the whole research paper, and not just the abstract, one can’t always tell what has been down played, what important variable was not even considered…
    There was a time in medical research when new knowledge that furthered breakthroughs in cures for maladies was the primary goal. Scientists never padded results since they knew others would replicate their research to see if it were sound. Those days are gone. Medicines hit the market now without time trials, without efficacy, and with side effects so harmful, patients should run screaming from the office.
    Making Money is the driving force behind almost every thing done in the medical field in our country today. Having worked in the field before the advent of Medicare and afterward, I can look back and see when the major changes began. It was too easy for Doctors to get rich quick after Medicare. Then the drug companies learned how to lobby. It was the beginning of the end of an ideal. Medicare works in many countries. Chile and Costa Rica for two.

  2. SNH

    Very interesting topic. The general public, including very well educated people, do not understand statistics… and worse than that, statistical information is often communicated in a misleading way (either because the science writer doesn’t understand, or in the case of politics, often on purpose). Our society is functionally innumerate (math illiterate).
    The result for patients and doctors is that often people refuse meds that might help them, or are all too willing to take meds whose risk outweighs the benefit. I think that an apt course for health care providers would be (after statistics) “Communicating statistics to your patients”. People can take and pass statistics and be as illiterate in the matter as someone who never did.

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