Sunday, May 22, 2022

Numeracy in Medicine: Clinical Wagers to Estimate Probability in Diagnosis

As has become my custom, I offered a wager on rounds the other day. An nonagenarian had gastrointestinal hemorrhage. He presented with syncope and gross (red) blood per rectum. History was significant for Apixaban for atrial fibrillation, and NSAID use. My questions to the team were: what are the possible etiologies of the bleeding; and which among are most likely? After the diagnostic possibilities were enumerated, I offered my wager: a $10 stake that it is peptic ulcer disease (PUD) at 4:1 odds. If the patient has PUD, a taker of my wager owes me $10. If the patient does not have PUD, I owe the taker the $10 stake multiplied by the odds: $40.

There are several pedagogical and practical reasons I engage my team in these games, most of them pedagogical. First, making a wager about clinical outcomes gives you skin in the game. It is remarkable how, when I assign a stake and odds, the interest level goes up and my would-be wager-takers become carefully attuned to the differential diagnosis and other pieces of data that until then had been glossed over or wholly neglected. Recently, when making a wager about results of a pending echocardiogram, the resident did a much deeper chart dive than had previously been done and found a remote echo which bore on the probabilities for the current wager. I had to reassign the odds in light of this new information. Related to this deeper search for available information about the case, there can be a search for information about the diseases under consideration. It would be folly to try to make a bet about the probability of a disease that you understand incompletely, or not at all. Skin in the game will likely lead you to where you can ascertain knowledge about the considered diseases to apply it to the wager.