Daniel Levitin: Important Health Decisions with Consent


Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin broke into his own house in the dead of night in Montreal a few years ago. He realised he had left his keys at home when he returned from spending time with a friend. He could see them through the window even though all the other doors and windows were locked. He used a large rock to smash the basement window because he was in a desperate situation, and it was bitterly cold. He cleared away the broken pieces of glass and squeezed through. He located some cardboard, which he taped over the hole. He intended to call his contractor in the morning to fix it, even though it would be expensive.

Levitin discusses how this experience made him consider reducing the likelihood of bad things occurring or alleviating the damage if they do. He introduces a method known as “prospective hindsight” or “premortem,” in which you look ahead and try to identify all the potential problems before determining what you can do to avoid them. He continues by offering some advice on maintaining your composure in stressful situations, including setting aside a spot for your keys and passport, creating lists, and engaging in mindfulness exercises.


Levitin also talks about a specific medical condition and how it relates to decision-making in general. He explains that when a doctor informs a patient that their cholesterol is high and suggests a drug called a statin to lower it, the patient should ask for the number needed to treat (NNT). The NNT is the number of people that need to take the drug before one person is helped. He states that the NNT for the most widely prescribed statin is 300, meaning 300 people have to take medicine for a year before one heart attack, stroke or other adverse event is prevented.

He advises patients to also ask about the side effects of the drug. He emphasises that medical ethics require informed consent, giving patients the right to access this information before deciding. Levitin also mentions that the NNT for the most widely performed surgery on men over the age of 50, removal of the prostate for cancer, is 49, and the side effects occur in 50 per cent of the patients.

People must be aware of their health and be able to consider their treatment options carefully. People can use a statistic called the number needed to treat (NNT) to determine how well a treatment performs. Before one person is helped, a certain number of people must take medication, have surgery, or go through any other medical procedure. Understanding the NNT can affect a person’s decision to take a particular drug or undergo surgery.

Levitin also emphasises the significance of comprehending a treatment’s potential side effects. Before making a choice, people must be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of treatment. This is crucial when considering treatment with a high NNT because it may have more risks than benefits.

Additionally, being honest and open with your doctor about your worries and inquiries is crucial. It’s critical to feel at ease bringing up any concerns or queries with your doctor because they are there to assist you in making knowledgeable decisions about your health.

It’s crucial for people to actively take charge of their health and make informed decisions about the range of available treatments. If people ask for the number needed to treat (NNT) and are aware of any potential adverse effects from treatment, they can make better decisions. Keeping the lines of communication open with your doctor is essential to ensure that you select the best action for your health. Remember that you have a right to access this data so that you can decide whether or not you want to take risks.





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