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How to communicate evidence to patients
  1. Alexandra L J Freeman
  1. Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence Communication, Centre for Mathematical Sciences, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Alexandra L J Freeman, Winton Centre for Risk & Evidence Communication, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, CB3 0WA, UK; alex.freeman{at}

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All medical treatments have potential harms as well as benefits, and it is vital that everyone has a good understanding of what these might be, how dramatic they might be and how likely. In fact, in the UK, the Montgomery judgement in the supreme court in 2015 (see Box 1) has made it a legal necessity for patients to be given comprehensible, personally relevant information about all reasonable treatment options, including none.1 So, how should we ensure good, clear communication of relevant evidence?

Box 1.

The Montgomery judgement

In 1999, Nadine Montgomery was preparing for the birth of her son Sam. She was of small stature, with diabetes, and was concerned about being able to give birth naturally. Unfortunately, difficulties did arise during birth, and Sam suffered brain damage as a result. Her obstetrician had not discussed the risk of this particular complication occurring, deeming it best Nadine attempted a vaginal birth. On appeal at the supreme court, Nadine Montgomery won her case. This laid down a new legal basis for informed consent, in line with the General Medical Council guidelines;1

“The doctor is therefore under a duty to take reasonable care to ensure that the patient is aware of any material risks involved in any recommended treatment, and of any reasonable alternative or variant treatments.”

“The test of materiality is whether, in the circumstances of the particular case, a reasonable person in the patient's position would be likely to attach significance to the risk, or the doctor is or should reasonably be aware that the particular patient would be likely to attach significance to it.

“The assessment of whether a risk is material cannot be reduced to percentages. The significance of a given risk is likely to reflect a variety of factors besides its magnitude”

“The doctor’s advisory role involves dialogue, …

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