Individuals make decisions about health and well-being every day. Many of those decisions involve using and understanding numbers, and most of the decisions are made quickly, at home or at work, as a person goes about a daily routine. Even with adequate time, many people lack the skills to make good use of numerical information to help them make informed decisions. Health professionals and health systems also often communicate numerical information poorly, increasing the challenge.
We aim in this paper to provide guiding principles for communicating numbers in a clear, simple way. These principles can be used by health professionals interacting with patients; health systems creating and giving information about diseases, treatments, prevention, cost, and covered services; and health plans explaining the cost of deductibles, co-pays, maximum out-of-pocket costs, tiered coverage for medicines, and quality. Pharmaceutical and medical device companies also have a great opportunity to explain the risks and benefits of medicines and devices. No matter how different these organizations appear, they all should take the opportunity to help foster improved health decision making by presenting data and numbers clearly.