Article Text

Download PDFPDF
Decimal numbers and safe interpretation of clinical pathology results
  1. Michael Sinnott1,2,
  2. Robert Eley1,2,
  3. Vicki Steinle3,
  4. Mary Boyde4,
  5. Leanne Trenning1,
  6. Goce Dimeski5
  1. 1Emergency Department, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Brisbane, Australia
  2. 2Southside Clinical School, The University of Queensland School of Medicine, Woolloongabba, Queensland, Australia
  3. 3Department of Mathematics Education, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
  4. 4Department of Cardiology, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Brisbane, Australia
  5. 5Chemical Pathology, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Brisbane, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Robert Eley, Southside Clinical School, The University of Queensland School of Medicine, Emergency Medicine Research Program, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Woolloongabba, QLD 4102, Australia; r.eley{at}


Objective To determine the understanding of decimal numbers by medical laboratory scientists, doctors and nurses.

Methods A Decimal Comparison Test determined the comprehension of decimals numbers. Additional questions sought the participants’ understanding of concentrations and reference ranges, and their preferences for the presentation of clinical pathology results.

Results Of the 108 participants, 40% exhibited poor comprehension of decimal numbers. One-third of the medical laboratory scientists, a quarter of doctors, and half the nurses were characterised as lacking numeracy skills. The majority of participants (60%) thought it would be safer for results to be presented as whole numbers rather than as decimals with leading zeros.

Conclusions The number of laboratory and clinical staff who show numeracy issues that could lead to misinterpretation of clinical pathology results and contribute to medical error strongly supports recommendations that pathology results should be presented as whole numbers.

  • Evidence Based Pathology
  • Diagnostics
  • Laboratory Tests

Statistics from

Request Permissions

If you wish to reuse any or all of this article please use the link below which will take you to the Copyright Clearance Center’s RightsLink service. You will be able to get a quick price and instant permission to reuse the content in many different ways.