Product News and Recalls

A Statistical Basis for Medical Treatment Decisions

In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama remarked on the need for reforming medicine to be more precise, given our access to advanced science and data. The concept of “precision medicine” focuses on the use of advanced information such as genetics to make more customized medical treatment decisions. An article posted by The New York Times describes this theory and its role in shaping healthcare policy.

The effectiveness of medical treatments and medications can be examined through a metric known as number-needed-to-treat, also known as NNT. The NNT is defined as the number of people that must be treated with a particular treatment in order for one person to benefit. This measurement was actually developed in the 1980s but has not received widespread implementation.

The metric could prove useful in understanding the actual statistical health benefits of a given treatment. For example, a study might show that a drug reduces the risk of death from a rare cancer by 50%. While this sounds like a good treatment, if the cancer is extremely rare, the NNT might be 1,000, or higher. This means that you would have to treat 1,000 people to prevent one case of cancer, with a drug that might have severe side-effects. The higher the NNT, the less overall benefit from a treatment.

low-dose aspirin may be overprescribedThe New York Times article uses aspirin therapy as an example. Aspirin is often prescribed to patients at risk of heart attack. Generally, the American Heart Association recommends that those who have a ten percent chance or more of suffering a heart attack use aspirin therapy. The percent risk for heart attack is based on factors such as cholesterol, family history, and lifestyle. The NNT metric for aspirin therapy, however, is astonishingly poor. Studies in clinical trials found that only 1 out of 2,000 patients will have prevented a heart attack after two years of taking aspirin.

Regardless of the medical condition at issue, it is important that doctors tailor their treatment to fit the needs of a given patient and ensure that the potential benefits of a treatment outweigh the risks of the treatment. To act in any other way or without a patient’s informed consent may result in serious and unexpected harm and may amount to medical malpractice. If you or a loved one suffered an injury as a result of medical malpractice, you may be entitled to financial compensation. Contact a qualified and experienced Lopez McHugh medical malpractice attorney at (877) 737-8525 to discuss your possible medical malpractice claim.