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The scientific understanding of how people perceive and code risks and then use this information in decision making has progressed greatly in the last 20 years. There is considerable evidence that people employ simplifying heuristics in judgement and decision making. These heuristics may lead to bias in how people interpret information. However, much of our understanding of risk perception is based on laboratory studies. It is much less clear whether risk perception in the real world (as in the case of medical treatments) exhibits the same patterns and biases. This paper reviews the published literature on risk perception in patients who face substantial treatment risks. It examines how accurate patients' perception of risk is, what factors affect the perception of risk, and several possible explanations for why patients' risk perception is not always accurate.
Key Words: patient preference; risk; informed choice; decision making; patient-caregiver communication