06/01/2005 01:01 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Doctors, Patients, and Studies:

I was quite interested by the study that Jay Gordon links to, but I had a question about it. Dr. Gordon writes:

Nearly every one of 253 adults asked said that their doctors should ask them about family stress and conflict, even when that conflict extended to violence.

In contrast, only about a third of these people said that their doctors actually did inquire about these crucial aspects of physical and emotional well-being.

But as I read the study, it found that 67% of respondents said that family doctors should "sometimes" ask about family conflict, and only 29% said that doctors should "often" ask about this. This suggests that there may not be much "contrast" there: 67% of respondents think that the doctor should only ask about this sometimes -- presumably under certain circumstances, though each respondent may have a different view of what those circumstances might be; and many doctors might take a similar view, and simply conclude in many cases (whether rightly or wrongly) that this particular patient's circumstances don't justify such an inquiry.

Am I mistaken on this? Am I misreading the study?

By the way, I have no firm views on what doctors should be asking their patients; for all I know, they should ask routinely everyone about family conflict. My interest here is simply as someone who sometimes writes about statistics, how they get reported, and how important qualifiers sometimes get lost in the reporting. It seems to me, for instance, that 67% of the respondents saying sometimes ask and 29% saying often ask (which is what the study seems to report) isn't quite fully captured by "97 percent[] believed physicians should ask" (which is what the summary seemed to report).