Helping Patients Understand Risks

The Book By John Paling PhD
208 pages ISBN 0-9642236-7-8.

Helping Patients Understand Risk

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U.S.A. $29.95 USD + $9.95
Canada $29.95 USD + $12.95
International $29.95 USD + $19.95

Who is the book for?

  • This book is designed to appeal to every physician, genetic counselor, and clinical psychologist - in fact to every professional who has cause to speak to patients about risks and has never thought twice about it.
  • It is also very helpful for all hospital managers, healthcare agencies and pharmaceutical companies who confront the consequences of unsuccessful communication when it is coupled with patient dissatisfaction.

"Some of the most important basics of risk communication in a form that is easy to digest and use, yet true to the research and theory base from which you've drawn. I especially like your wonderfully breezy style, your visual aids (especially the palette), and your very convincing argument about relative risk."

Peter Sandman PhD (probably the most
respected risk communicator in USA)

What is unique about the book?

To the best of our knowledge, this is the only book in any language that focuses on communicating medical risks to individuals.

This book is deliberately designed to appeal to the widest possible healthcare audience. In contrast, most other books dealing with doctor - patient communication tend to address those who are already interested in the field.

Since there is so much variability between patients and their medical conditions, there can never be a one-size-fits-all approach so, instead, this book provides physicians with a "toolbox of strategies" that the professionals can draw on as appropriate. The book is firmly based on a patient-focused approach. It starts by outlining the many challenges and then moves on to suggest solutions.


"John Paling stresses the importance for doctors to "seek first to understand and then to be understood." Then, in that light, he offers his unique visual aids to answer patients' needs. A marvelous, practical contribution."

Stephen R. Covey, author, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and
The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness

Why is this book needed?

Doctors face the most difficult challenges in the whole field of risk communication. Yet surprisingly the lessons from other professions have not been introduced into healthcare and visual aids are rarely used in the process. Indeed, it is hard for doctors who have been doing risk communication for years to believe that simple changes to their current practices can give so much value - not just for their patients but also for themselves.

The topic is not formally taught in medical schools because there is not time to fit it in alongside the essential biomedical topics.

Instead young doctors learn their communication skills like apprentices in a medieval guild. They just pick up what to do by watching the master craftsman. They rarely get to know what actually causes patients most misunderstanding, nor that they can adopt improved strategies that take no more time nor money.

"This risk scale certainly enhances the informed consent process. This should take a back seat, though, to its use as an educational tool to help patients and their families evaluate the risks of therapy, essentially without adding any extra time to the examination."

Kenneth Kellner, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology,
University of Florida, College of Medicine.

The benefits of using decision aids

Larger View

This book introduces visual aids that show the odds of those who may be affected by a bad outcome. But more important, at the same time, they show those who probably will not experience an adverse effect. This perspective can have a big influence on patients yet is normally overlooked. Drawing attention to the positive "framing" helps support a positive outcome and can greatly influence the decision that patients make.

Visual aids, appeal to people of all education levels and all language skills and are immediately understood by those who see them.

They are also very valuable as a tool to promote bonding and partnerships between doctors and their patients. Consciously building a sense of partnership is the best way we know to overcome the patient's emotional resistance to considering the data that the healthcare professional is so anxious to get across.


"I have shared your palettes with the OBs, midwives and genetic counselors where I practice clinically and can see immense value in their use."

Tekoa King, Editor of Journal of Midwifery and Women's Health.

Healthcare organizations

Pharmaceutical companies and healthcare agencies can achieve very important advantages of not having the public exaggerating the levels of risks represented by such things as hormone therapy and Celebrex. (Not that these treatments don't have important risks that the patient should be told about but that the way these influential organizations currently deal with risks significantly exaggerates the fear that patients take away. )

There is strong evidence that increased patient satisfaction and reduction in exposure to malpractice claims can all result from following the strategies illustrated in this book.


"The book is well thought out and is packed with good sense.
No brain ache and lots of humour."

Dr. Andrew Moore, Editor,

About The Author

John Paling started his career as a junior professor in zoology at Oxford University in England. There, with colleagues, he went on to found a successful, wildlife movie company. His first Emmy was for the very first PBS Nova program in 1973, and the last one was for "The Realm of the Alligator," a special for The National Geographic Society.
This background lead him to appreciate the power of visual images to communicate scientific messages to all types of audiences. To this day, he tries to incorporate visual metaphors into his keynotes and seminars as well as his books.

He came to live in USA in 1980 and was introduced to the world of risk communication as he studied the environmental worries and chemical fears of those times.

That started him devising visual aids so that the public could get a more accurate impression about what really they might want to worry about. As a result of an article in Scientific American about his work, doctors started to co-opt his services to help them communicate more effectively with their patients.

In 2003, the British Medical Journal (Vol. 327. p. 745-8) commissioned Paling to write an article about his "toolbox of ideas" for improving risk communication. After that, even more medical organizations have sought his services as they have come to recognize that simple improvements in this field can lead to significant benefits both for themselves and for their patients.

John is founder and research director for The Risk Communication Institute, a company providing speaking and consulting services to organizations worldwide.

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Purchasers of the book qualify for a 3-month free trial of the decision aids demonstrated in this book.

Softcover, 208 pages including 64 illustrations.

2006 ISBN 0-9642236-7-8

  • U.S.A. $29.95 + $9.95 postage and shipping
  • Canada $29.95 + $12.95 First Class Air Mail Shipping Canada
  • International $29.95 + $19.95 Global Priority Shipping

If you would like us to customize our communications tools to focus on your own needs, or if you would like to inquire about John Paling speaking at your next meeting, please contact us.
The Risk Communication Institute
5822 N.W. 91st Blvd.
Gainesville, FL 32653
(352) 377-2142