Do doctors need statistics? Doctors' use of and attitudes to probability and statistics

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There is little published evidence on what doctors do in their work that requires probability and statistics, yet the General Medical Council (GMC) requires new doctors to have these skills. This study investigated doctors' use of and attitudes to probability and statistics with a view to informing undergraduate teaching.

An email questionnaire was sent to 473 clinicians with an affiliation to the University of East Anglia's Medical School.

Of 130 respondents approximately 90 per cent of doctors who performed each of the following activities found probability and statistics useful for that activity: accessing clinical guidelines and evidence summaries, explaining levels of risk to patients, assessing medical marketing and advertising material, interpreting the results of a screening test, reading research publications for general professional interest, and using research publications to explore non-standard treatment and management options.

Seventy-nine per cent (103/130, 95 per cent CI 71 per cent, 86 per cent) of participants considered probability and statistics important in their work. Sixty-three per cent (78/124, 95 per cent CI 54 per cent, 71 per cent) said that there were activities that they could do better or start doing if they had an improved understanding of these areas and 74 of these participants elaborated on this. Themes highlighted by participants included: being better able to critically evaluate other people's research; becoming more research-active, having a better understanding of risk; and being better able to explain things to, or teach, other people.

Our results can be used to inform how probability and statistics should be taught to medical undergraduates and should encourage today's medical students of the subjects' relevance to their future careers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1969-1981
Number of pages13
JournalStatistics in Medicine
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - 2009

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