Communication Skills:
Discussing Lagtime to Benefit


Many patients are unaware that there is a lag time to benefit from screening tests or health promotion measures. “Lag time to benefit” is defined as the time between the preventive intervention to the time when improved health outcomes are seen as a result of the preventive intervention. For example, when we recommend colonoscopies, we are recommending a test to find and remove colonic polyps before they become cancerous. In recommending colonoscopies, we are hoping to help a patient avoid death from colon cancer 10 years from now.


In these videos, notice how the clinicians are doing the following communication techniques to explain the lag time to benefit:

  1. Explaining the time interval (e.g., 10 years) that is needed for a benefit from the preventive intervention
  2. Explaining the immediate risks of the intervention
  3. Contrasting the immediate risks of the intervention with the lag-time to benefit

  1. Lee SJ, Leipzig RM, Walter LC. “When will it Help?” Incorporating lag time to benefit into prevention decisions for older adults. JAMA 2013 Dec 25;310(24):2609-10.
  2. Holmes HM, Hayley DC, Alexander GC, Sachs GA. Reconsidering medication appropriateness for patients late in life. Arch Intern Med. 2006 Mar 27;166(6):605-9.

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