Health Statistics and You

We are awash in numbers, thanks in large part to the proliferation of personal mobile devices and the wrong-headed use of so-called big data.1 But applying statistical tools to the same set of data can support competing theories and lead to contradictory results. Such conflicting outcomes, known as antinomies if you remember Philosophy 101, cannot logically co-exist, and the field of statistics gets a bad reputation as a result. But big data can provide substantial value for people as individual patients. The key is to set some ground rules and understand the limitations of statistical investigation.

First and foremost, it's important to gain some clarity regarding the concept of false positives in regards to health. This statistical construct is familiar to all of us, although we may not be aware of it. If one of your doctors sends you for a laboratory test and the results are "positive", you'll be sent for follow-up tests until a final determination is made. If the final test turns out "negative", then the earlier results represented a false positive. The test results said you had the condition or disease, but in fact you did not.

False positives create numerous serious problems, not the least of which is the emotional toll of stress, anxiety, and fear experienced by the patient and her family and close friends. This is especially true when the suspected disease is a malignancy or other serious, life-threatening condition. It's useful and empowering for people to learn that 5% of all test results are falsely positive right from the start. Medical tests are designed this way. The 5% false positive rate is a necessary part of statistical analysis. It's built-in to the statistical design. In other words, test values that represent "normal" are obtained by cutting off the bottom 2.5% and the top 2.5% of a large sample of results from people who are "normal" for the thing being tested, such as white blood cell count or hemoglobin level.

Thus, 5% of normal people automatically have false positive results. Another way of stating this outcome is to consider that if you undergo a panel of 20 blood tests, one result (5% of 20) will be positive no matter what.

The vast majority of patients are not familiar with the statistical concept of false positive results.2 With a basic understanding of this construct and its implications, patients could ask their doctors meaningful questions such as, "What do the test results mean?", "Have you considered the possibility of a false positive result?", and "How will the additional tests you're recommending affect decision-making in my case?"

Posing such questions is tremendously empowering for you, the patient, and helps reestablish equity in the doctor-patient relationship.3 As a health care consumer, a little knowledge goes a long way. Gaining more than a little knowledge by reading articles on diagnostic methods and health care decision-making will further strengthen your own process as a patient.

1Bates DW, et al: Big data in health care: using analytics to identify and manage high-risk and high-cost patients. Health Aff (Millwood) 33(7):1123-31, 2014
2Paddock SM: Statistical benchmarks for health care provider performance assessment: a comparison of standard approaches to a hierarchical Bayesian histogram-based method. Health Serv Res 49(3):1056-73, 2014
3Stacey D, et al: Decision aids for people facing health treatment or screening decisions. Cochane Database Syst Rev 28;1:CD001431, 2014

Locations

Find us on the map

Business Information

Contact Us


Sturgis Chiropractic

824 1st Street
Sturgis, SD 57785

Phone: 605-347-4003

Fax: 605-347-6929

Office Hours

Buffalo Clinic

202 US HWY 85 STE#105
Buffalo, SD 57720

Phone: 605-375-3528

Office Hours

Central City

136 Broadway St.
Central City, SD 57754

Phone: 605-717-0074

Office Hours

Testimonials

Reviews By Our Satisfied Patients

  • "Before receiving chiropractic care I was unable to walk one block without hip and low back pain. Now I am able to walk 2 miles without pain since manual manipulation and back exercises. The most special part of my experience with Dr. Johnson was understanding why I have back pain. If you want to live pain free, then see Dr. Johnson."
    Karen Whitewood, SD
  • "The pain in my hip and low back put me at a stop. I couldn't work at all. My back greatly improved with adjustments. Chiropractic care took my pain away. The doctor offered kindness, friendship, and understanding. Not to worry, you will be well taken care of."
    Aldon Whitewood, SD Retired mechanic
  • "Due to arthritis in my neck I was having difficulty moving my neck and could not function. I even found it very difficult to drive my car. Currently at this time I have full mobility and I am proud to say that I am pain free. Dr Gunderson and staff are the best! I prefer a real solution and not pain killers. I feel like a new person... I have more energy, good sleep and my mood has greatly improved. Thank you!"
    Lynn Whitewood, SD Retired