Health Statistics and You

We are awash in numbers, thanks in large part to the proliferation of personal mobile devices and the wrong-headed use of so-called big data.1 But applying statistical tools to the same set of data can support competing theories and lead to contradictory results. Such conflicting outcomes, known as antinomies if you remember Philosophy 101, cannot logically co-exist, and the field of statistics gets a bad reputation as a result. But big data can provide substantial value for people as individual patients. The key is to set some ground rules and understand the limitations of statistical investigation.

First and foremost, it's important to gain some clarity regarding the concept of false positives in regards to health. This statistical construct is familiar to all of us, although we may not be aware of it. If one of your doctors sends you for a laboratory test and the results are "positive", you'll be sent for follow-up tests until a final determination is made. If the final test turns out "negative", then the earlier results represented a false positive. The test results said you had the condition or disease, but in fact you did not.

False positives create numerous serious problems, not the least of which is the emotional toll of stress, anxiety, and fear experienced by the patient and her family and close friends. This is especially true when the suspected disease is a malignancy or other serious, life-threatening condition. It's useful and empowering for people to learn that 5% of all test results are falsely positive right from the start. Medical tests are designed this way. The 5% false positive rate is a necessary part of statistical analysis. It's built-in to the statistical design. In other words, test values that represent "normal" are obtained by cutting off the bottom 2.5% and the top 2.5% of a large sample of results from people who are "normal" for the thing being tested, such as white blood cell count or hemoglobin level.

Thus, 5% of normal people automatically have false positive results. Another way of stating this outcome is to consider that if you undergo a panel of 20 blood tests, one result (5% of 20) will be positive no matter what.

The vast majority of patients are not familiar with the statistical concept of false positive results.2 With a basic understanding of this construct and its implications, patients could ask their doctors meaningful questions such as, "What do the test results mean?", "Have you considered the possibility of a false positive result?", and "How will the additional tests you're recommending affect decision-making in my case?"

Posing such questions is tremendously empowering for you, the patient, and helps reestablish equity in the doctor-patient relationship.3 As a health care consumer, a little knowledge goes a long way. Gaining more than a little knowledge by reading articles on diagnostic methods and health care decision-making will further strengthen your own process as a patient.

1Bates DW, et al: Big data in health care: using analytics to identify and manage high-risk and high-cost patients. Health Aff (Millwood) 33(7):1123-31, 2014
2Paddock SM: Statistical benchmarks for health care provider performance assessment: a comparison of standard approaches to a hierarchical Bayesian histogram-based method. Health Serv Res 49(3):1056-73, 2014
3Stacey D, et al: Decision aids for people facing health treatment or screening decisions. Cochane Database Syst Rev 28;1:CD001431, 2014

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Testimonials

  • "I have been a patient at Dr. Meylor’s clinic for the past 15 years, and during that time, he has been my primary health specialist. As an elite age group runner, it is extremely important to stay in alignment – both to prevent injury and to sustain optimum performance, so it is crucial to get a chiropractic adjustment at least once a month. Along with proper training, orthotics, attention to nutrition, and adequate sleep, chiropractic has been an essential part of my success in which I have been fortunate to compete at a national level in my age group for many years. And at a time when many of my age group competitors are declining in their running abilities, I have been able to improve my performance based upon age grading scales and have even been listed nationally in USA Track & Field’s rankings over the past two years. I am convinced this wouldn’t have happened had I not been getting regular adjustments from Dr. Meylor."
    Andriette Wickstrom, Storm Lake
  • "In addition to adjustments, there have been several occasions in which I have had non-invasive acupuncture treatments, with very successful results, especially during several instances in which I experienced severe headaches from allergic reactions. Not only did the acupuncture alleviate the pain, it also convinced me to never attempt to mask such problems by using aspirin or other such drugs or pain relievers."
    Andriette Wickstrom, Storm Lake
  • "I realize that not everyone is a competitive athlete, however, being in the best physical condition possible should be a goal for all of us as we strive to lead happy and productive lives. I greatly recommend having chiropractic care as an integral part of everyone’s health plan. The high quality care I have received from Dr. Meylor has contributed to my overall excellent health, and I would encourage others to maximize their own physical potential by choosing chiropractic treatment. Not only does Dr. Meylor offer exceptional skills, he is also very approachable in communicating to patients using understandable terms, and I completely trust his professional expertise."
    Andriette Wickstrom, Storm Lake
  • "I was diagnosed with Fibromylagia 9 years ago, after being in bed for 6 week's due to the severe pain I was in. A friend recommended that i go to see Dr. Meylor. When i first walked into Dr. Meylor's office I was struggling to hold my head up without support. Dr. Meylor suggested therapy, acupuncture, an alignment, proper nutrition and exercise. The combination has kept me moving.
    Dr. Meylor sees me once every 3-4 week's Keeping aligned has proved to give me the best relief from my fibromyalgia symptoms. Thanks to Dr. Meylor and his staff, over the course of the past 9 years I have been able to have a very good quality of life with fibromyalgia.....something I once thought I would never have."
    Chandra Younie
  • "I came to see Dr Meylor with constant burning in my ear, down my neck and arm. The office staff made me feel so welcome. Dr. Meylor examined me and i was adjusted twice that week and I felt so much better with each adjustment. I know that with my stressful job I will feel and do better to keep myself adjusted and continue going to Dr. Meylor on a monthly basis. Best decision I ever made."
    Rebecca
  • "I first started see Dr. Meylor in November 2012. When I first came to the office I was unable to walk for more than 1 block and I was not able to stand for more than five minutes. I was in such severe pain with my lower back that I had opted to seek pain control through the use of pain medication shots put directly into my spine . After a series of a total 12 shots into my spine I was still in severe pain and no relief in sight."
  • "Upon Dr. Meylor's recommendation I started seeing him 3 times a week for 4 weeks then 2 times a week for 3 weeks and finally 1 time a week for 2 more weeks. I was finally able to cope with what little discomfort I had. I now am able to stand for a good portion of my day and I can now walk about 8 block now without much pain. I will never be free from my back issue but I am now able to return to a normal life. I owe a lot to Dr. Meylor for helping me to become stronger and more functional in my day to day living. I continue to see Dr. Meylor on a weekly basis and am so happy with my improvement. I would highly recommend him to anyone that is needing help with any kind of chiropractic need."
  • "I had been suffering with severe low back pain and sciatica down my left leg for months. This affected everything I did and I became less and less active. I could not sleep at all at night because of the pain. My family could see how much pain I was in and I was not myself. I had to stop going to my children's school and sporting events that required me to sit in bleachers because of the constant pain.
    I went to my MD several times and was given pain pills and muscle relaxers. They made me feel terrible and now I had more side affects from them. The Dr. told me I should have back surgery which scared me to death."
  • "A friend told me to try her chiropractor Dr. Meylor. I called and they got me in that same day. Dr. Meylor listened to all my complaints and did a thorough exam and x-rays. He explained why I was experiencing this kind of reoccurring pain and what he could do to help. I was adjusted that day and given therapy. I felt immediate relief after my adjustment. I could'nt believe it! I had two more adjustments that week and I was so excited to be having less pain and I started sleeping thru the night! I continued following Dr. Meylor's recommendations and I feel great now and truly have my life back! I have my friend to thank for recommending Dr. Meylor and I have told many friends about my experience!"