Fact Boxes

The Harding Center for Risk Literacy collaborates with a number of organizations to develop fact boxes on health topics that are targeted at the general population and doctors alike. The fact boxes are intended to enable consumers to understand the advantages and disadvantages of certain medical measures so they can decide whether or not to consent to them.

Applying the developments and findings of the Harding Center's research on transparent communication of risks, we strive to present the best available evidence on potential benefits and harms of various medical measures and on health topics by creating fact boxes in a graphically appealing format.

More generally, we scientifically evaluate the effectiveness of fact boxes in terms of how they improve the consumers’ understanding of harms and benefits of health behaviors and treatments, and how they affect health decisions. In addition, we examine which other formats could be suitable for the aggregation and presentation of medical evidence and how best to communicate information about the quality and uncertainty of such evidence.

Collaboration partners:


In 2014 we began developing fact boxes in cooperation with the AOK, one of the largest health insurance providers in Germany. The fact boxes are available as decision-making tools on the AOK website (website only available in German).


Bertelsmann Foundation and Weisse Liste

This project builds on the research expertise of the Harding Center and the capacity of the Bertelsmann Stiftung to disseminate decision tools broadly to the public through their website "Weisse Liste" (website only available in German).



In collaboration with the Swiss health insurer Helsana, we created fact boxes on the topics of cancer screening and vaccination. These fact boxes can be found together with short animated clips on the Helsana website.




Medical questions often have no black-and-white answers. For this reason, transparent information is crucial – as is the courage to make informed decisions for oneself.

What are fact boxes?

Fact boxes communicate the best available evidence about a specific topic in an easily understandable manner. The most important pros and cons are contrasted with each other in a tabular format, thus allowing even people with no medical or statistical background to make competent decisions.

The idea

The simple tabular format was originally developed by Eddy in the form of a balance sheet to illustrate the benefits and harms of colorectal cancer screening. Lisa Schwartz and Steven Woloshin subsequently adopted the idea in their drug fact boxes to improve direct-to-consumer drug advertisements. Since 2009, the work at the Harding Center for Risk Literacy builds on this work in order to disseminate the idea of fact boxes focusing on health topics.

Several studies show that fact boxes were effective tools for informing the general public about harms and benefits of medical treatments.


The methods paper describes the scientific basis and methodical approach of the Harding Center scientists when developing fact boxes. In addition to the detailed description of the scientific principles underlying the development of fact boxes, the steps to create fact boxes are summarized, and the cooperation with external partners described.

The method paper for the development of fact boxes is continually revised to meet the quality requirements of the Harding Center as well as those of the Max Planck Society and to take into account the latest developments in evidence-based medicine.

Comments and suggestions are welcome and can be addressed to hardingcenter@fgw-brandenburg.de.

» Method paper for the devolpment of fact boxes
(version 2.2, 18.05.2020)



Brick, C, McDowell, M, & Freeman, ALJ (2020). Risk communication in tables vs. text: a Registered Report randomised trial on 'fact boxes'. Royal Society Open Science 7: 190876. doi: 10.1098/rsos.190876 [Article]

Loizeau, AJ, Theill, N, Cohen, SM, Eicher, S, Mitchell, SL., Meier, S, McDowell, M, Martin, M, Riese, F (2019). Fact Box decision support tools reduce decisional conflict about antibiotics for pneumonia and artificial hydration in advanced dementia: A randomized controlled trail. Age and Ageing, 48, 67-74. doi:10.1093/ageing/afy149 [Article]

McDowell M, Rebitschek FG, Gigerenzer G, Wegwarth O (2016). A Simple Tool for Communicating the Benefits and Harms of Health Interventions: A Guide for Creating a Fact Box. MDM P&P 1:1-10. [Article]

Schwartz LM, Woloshin S, Welch HG (2009). Using a drug facts box to communicate drug benefits and harms: two randomized trials. Ann Intern Med 150:516-27. [Article]

Schwartz LM, Woloshin S, Welch HG (2007). The drug facts box: providing consumers with simple tabular data on drug benefit and harm. Med Decis Making 27:655-62. [Abstract]

Eddy DM (1990). Comparing benefits and harms: the balance sheet. JAMA 1990;263(18):2493. [Abstract]


Terms of Use

CCAll fact boxes of the Harding Center for Risk Literacy and accompanying materials are licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 license (attribution - non-commercial - no derivatives - 4.0 international).