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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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Millar Chiropractic Clinics -
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Huntsville, Madison, and Jones Valley Alabama

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Local Phone: (256) 830-0000
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Millar Chiropractic Associates, Inc.
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Phone: (256) 519-3550

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Millar Chiropractic-Madison AL

Dr. Justin Walbom, DC
1908 Slaughter Rd
Madison AL 35758
(256) 430-2700

Millar Chiropractic-Huntsville AL (Jones Valley)

Dr. Jessica Davis, DC
2124 Cecil Ashburn Dr SE, Ste 150
Huntsville, AL 35802
(256) 713-1830

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Dr. Eric Hayes, DC
2021 Clinton Ave W, Ste A
Huntsville, AL 35805
(256) 539-2000

Millar Chiropractic Functional Medicine (Williams Ave)

Dr. Greg Millar, DC CCEP
303 Williams Ave SW, Ste 133
Huntsville, Alabama 35801
(256) 513-4888

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Dr. Greg Millar, DC CCEP | Dr Bonnie Sims, ND
303 Williams Ave SW, Ste 135
Huntsville, Alabama 35801
(256) 830-4545
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Dr. Greg Millar, DC CCEP & Dr. Bonnie Sims, ND
303 Williams Ave SW, Ste 134
Huntsville, Alabama 35801
(256) 539-1000

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2021 Clinton Ave W, Suite E
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Each clinic independently owned and operated. Each clinic practices as a separate group practice from the other Millar Chiropractic Clinics and their respective companies. Millar Chiropractic Associates, Inc. is the management and marketing company for Millar Chiropractic and Millar Chiropractic Clinics. See Notices & Disclaimers and Terms of Use

Free* Consultation - A Free consultation is just that. A 15-20 minute meeting to talk about your problems and our possible solutions. No Exams preformed. No Chiropractic treatment given. Should the person receiving the Free* services as outline above be accepted as a patient of Millar Chiropractic Clinics then additional regular charges for treatment will be incurred in individual cases as needed for related services. It is up to YOU to determine if you can receive Free* services. This offer only to new consultations and does not apply to existing patients,, personal injury, or workers comp consultations. For all services, results vary in individual cases. Cash value of Free* consultation $0.01. Cash value of Free Massage $0.01.