BACKGROUND: Use of risk calculators for specific diseases is increasing, with an underlying assumption that they promote risk reduction as users become better informed and motivated to take preventive action. Empirical data to support this are, however, sparse and contradictory.
AIM: To explore user reactions to a cardiovascular risk calculator for people with type 2 diabetes. Objectives were to identify cognitive and emotional reactions to the presentation of risk, with a view to understanding whether and how such a calculator could help motivate users to adopt healthier behaviours and/or improve adherence to medication.
DESIGN AND SETTING: Qualitative study combining data from focus groups and individual user experience. Adults with type 2 diabetes were recruited through website advertisements and posters displayed at local GP practices and diabetes groups.
METHOD: Participants used a risk calculator that provided individualised estimates of cardiovascular risk. Estimates were based on UK Prospective Diabetes Study (UKPDS) data, supplemented with data from trials and systematic reviews. Risk information was presented using natural frequencies, visual displays, and a range of formats. Data were recorded and transcribed, then analysed by a multidisciplinary group.
RESULTS: Thirty-six participants contributed data. Users demonstrated a range of complex cognitive and emotional responses, which might explain the lack of change in health behaviours demonstrated in the literature.
CONCLUSION: Cardiovascular risk calculators for people with diabetes may best be used in conjunction with health professionals who can guide the user through the calculator and help them use the resulting risk information as a source of motivation and encouragement.