Conclusions and future
We started this book by looking at the 1995 'pill scare', and saw how what was thought to be a simple risk message issued by the CSM had unforeseen detrimental effects on a large number of women. One clear conclusion that was drawn from this was that combining uncertain information with dire consequences can (and probably will) frighten large numbers of people, especially if exacerbated by the media (Adams 1998). The 'pill scare' is not the only example of a 'poor risk communication' having a more detrimental effect on public health than the risks that it was trying to address. This final chapter will start by considering the question of why many risk communications fail to produce the expected (beneficial) effects. A number of the reasons have been touched on in the earlier chapters but will be brought together here. The chapter will then move on to look at what can, and should, be done to improve future risk communications. Much of this will involve setting out future challenges rather than offering ready-made solutions. Finally, the chapter discusses a number of ethical concerns that arise in relation to risk communication in health.
There is no simple or 'single' answer to this question. Many communications do not have their intended effect because of a number of complex factors that typically interact with each other. These include the cognitive and emotional 'limitations' of the targeted recipients, the fact that people often vary in the values that they hold, the need to provide information for a mass audience that can nevertheless be made meaningful to individual recipients, and the problem that many people no longer trust a number of previously influential sources of risk messages.