Do mental health professionals really understand probability? Implications for risk assessment and evidence-based practice
Authors: GALE, TIM; HAWLEY, CHRIS; SIVAKUMARAN, THANUSHA
Source: Journal of Mental Health, Volume 12, Number 4, August 2003 , pp. 417-430(14)
Publisher: Informa Healthcare
Abstract:Background: Many studies have highlighted poor understanding of risk and probability in NHS service users. By contrast, few studies have explored whether health professionals share similar conceptual difficulties. The current study is an attempt to address this issue within the field of mental health.
Aims: The principal aim of the study is to test knowledge of basic probability across a range of Mental Health Professionals (MHPs) and to identify those aspects which they found difficult
Method: MHPs sample were compared to age-, gender-, and education-matched control group to establish whether MHPs were more skilled in dealing with probabilistic concepts. The assessment addressed several key aspects of probability that are important in risk assessment and evidence-based evaluations.
Results: Contrary to our predictions, the MHP group was no more accurate than the control group and many conceptual problems were highlighted, ranging from basic arithmetic difficulties to problems in evaluating relevant information. Systematic error was common in all areas tested. More generally, age, educational level, gender and professional group all strongly predicted response accuracy.
Conclusions: Our findings are discussed principally in relation to risk assessment practice. Our data suggest that all MHPs would benefit from receiving greater training in probability theory, since risk is central to so many concerns in mental health services.
Declaration of interest: None.
Document Type: Research Article
Affiliations: Department of Psychiatry QEII Hospital Welwyn Garden City UK
Publication date: 2003-08-01