Health risk assessments

November 14, 2015

"One thing I like to see is if there is an indication on the Web site that explains where they got their information," she says, "like a note that explains that the risk assessment calculator was developed based on these 15 scientific articles."

Even if the calculator appears to be based on good studies, the findings from those studies or the people that were studied may not be relevant to you, Waters cautions. For instance, a heart disease calculator could give an overall assessment of risk based on excellent studies of men over 65 years old, but their risk factors and health status are different than those for a 40-year- old woman.

"For people concerned about cancer, [online calculators] are good motivators to encourage good health behavior," says oncologist Robert Miller. "For those with cancer, these calculators are quite helpful to allow people to make more informed and better decisions." Miller recommends the National Cancer Institute (NCI) of the National Institutes of Health as a resource. The NCI website section on Cancer Causes and Risk Factors offers a wide range of reliable information about cancer risk including calculators.

Ready for Action

Some health risk assessments have expanded the definition of risk to include the complete health care experience, from a person's social support network to how well you feel your doctor listens to your concerns.

John Wasson, M.D. a geriatrics researcher at Dartmouth Medical School, helped create the How's Your Health? assessment, which allows users to look at their health in a broad way that includes follow up and specially tailored advice for different age groups.

"People usually hate the idea of health risk assessment," Wasson says. "They don't like being told, yet again, that they're overweight. They like to get patted on the head, but most of the time they get kicked in the butt."

The best risk assessments offer further information or other resources to help users follow up, says Waters at Washington University. Without strategies to reduce your risk, "you're kind of at a loss."

Understanding Risk

Online, check out the "risk" resources in the Prepared Patient Forum's 411 directory.

SOURCE Center for Advancing Health