Return to the Blog Homepage
Do No Harm: Avoid “Statistical Malpractice”

Do No Harm: Avoid “Statistical Malpractice”

August 24, 2015 0 Comments

Communications and complex math are traditionally at odds, but the disciplines are merging now more than ever for healthcare communicators. We are charged on a daily basis with adding creativity and color to often the most banal, icky or complex topics. Our targets are being bombarded by messaging 24/7, and it’s our job to make our clients’ news stand out from the clutter. We frequently must think “outside the box” to help generate interest in more challenging subject matters. To help quantify the impact of a particular issue. To make people want to care. Enter statistics.

Public relations professionals use statistics in almost everything we do. Want to help a reporter better understand the impact of a particular disease state? Cross reference it with U.S. Census data and demonstrate how the prevalence and/or mortality rates are significantly higher than an everyday public health threat (e.g., car accidents). Want to showcase the local impact? Explain what the numbers mean in local sporting facility terms.

From Omnibus to Harris Interactive surveys to compelling clinical study data, statistics are often our best friend. They feel irrefutable—because numbers never lie, right?

In the TED Talk, “Own Your Body’s Data,” statistician Talithia Williams encourages viewers to take a more informed approach to knowing their numbers, particularly in the age where a new fitness tracker hits the market every other month. At the end of the day, numbers are meaningless until we give them meaning. Without context, they can be misleading… even if they’re technically accurate.

The use of data to isn’t new nor is it specific to healthcare communications. In Statistical Malpractice, Tim Manners cites an example of when Governor Andrew Cuomo cited New York’s unemployment rate of 6.2 percent as a positive. Taken in isolation, one would agree this is a relatively low rate of unemployment. However, when the national average is 5.9 percent at the same time, it paints that 6.2 percent rate in a completely different way. Maybe New York actually needed to step up its game.

While we aren’t doctors (we only play them at work from time to time), we too took an oath as communicators to do no harm. Next time you’re peppering in some compelling data points to a pitch, fact sheet or presentation, take a moment to consider whether you’re telling the full story or committing statistical malpractice. As our primary focus is patients and caregivers, we must not forget that with our great (statistical) power comes great responsibility.


About the Author


Brenna is a Team Lead at Biosector 2 and has nearly 12 years of public relations experience, leading a variety of branded and unbranded communications programs. Her work experience includes rare, chronic conditions (hemophilia, multiple sclerosis, sickle cell anemia), neurology (addiction, depression, Alzheimer’s disease), oncology (cervical, ovarian and prostate cancer), chronic kidney disease, respiratory management (asthma), and urology (overactive bladder and benign prostatic hyperplasia), as well as crisis and R&D communications. Brenna joined the inVentiv Health Public Relations Group in March 2011 and recently received her Master of Business at New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business, specializing in Marketing, Global Business and Entrepreneurship.

Previous postWhat do running 100 miles and PR have in common? More than you might think Next postA View on Digital and Social Media in Health Care

No comments have been posted yet.

Share Your Comment

The comments are closed.