Article Date: 5/1/2005

Statistically Speaking
We don't always use numbers to our advantage. Is there a reason to change?
Jim Thomas

One of the more common statistics I've heard recently is that 90% of the things we worry about never occur. I'm certain that this percentage is based on a double-masked study containing a valid sample size.

It may bother some that this statistic leads to no clear conclusion. Does it mean that we should stop worrying so much? Or does it mean that we're not that bright -- we worry about the wrong things 90% of the time? It suggests that we might want to worry more. That way, a larger number of bad things won't happen. But I like the idea that bad things don't happen, so I'll agree with the 90% number ... whatever it means.

What's in the numbers?

Optometric Management presents plenty of statistics. Yet readers, in general, don't always use facts and figures to their best advantage. In his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., argues that we accept information that coincides with our position or how we see ourselves. Otherwise we reject the information, regardless of the data presented.

So if we publish an article claiming that optometrists can improve their practices by expanding prescription authority (see page 32), we'll receive two reactions: Readers will either agree or disagree. But their agreement will depend on their views of primary care optometry, rather than the information presented in the article.

In a very dynamic profession, such an automatic response can limit opportunities. Consider the leaps in technology over the past few years in diagnostic equipment, pharmaceuticals, contact lenses, spectacle lenses, patient education, information systems, etc. Now is not the time to discount new information, as successful practices have demonstrated.

It's more effective to use new data as a starting point to investigate products and services and how they might impact the practice. I'm inclined to believe that most optometrists would take this approach.

The other side

If Dr. Cialdini's arguments are correct, then they also apply to patients, especially those who won't accept new directions or recommendations too well. In this scenario, the doctor must not only make a recommendation, but he or she must take special care to educate the patient.

It may appear that the shift from recommendation to education/recommendation is fraught with challenges. But I wouldn't worry. After all, 90% of the things we worry about never happen.


Optometric Management, Issue: May 2005