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The Diabetes Lobby (Dec-09)

Tell us what you think about certain public policies designed to reduce the incidence of diabetes in the US.

Please read this hypothetical news article and then answer a few questions at the end.

People with Diabetes Lobby Congress This Week

Washington, March 28 – About 1000 patients with type 2 diabetes (also commonly known as adult-onset or non-insulin-dependent diabetes) have converged here as advocates for the American Diabetes Association (ADA). They will be meeting with their members of Congress to discuss their condition and advocate for federal policies to address their disease. In addition, they will hold a rally on Thursday of this week on the National Monument grounds, to attract popular attention to their disease.
 
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 21 million Americans have diabetes, but one-third of these people do not yet know they have the disease. More than 90% of people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes, a form of diabetes which typically emerges when people are adults but which may develop during childhood. The number of people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes has been increasing every year. There were over 1 million new cases of diabetes diagnosed in 2005 among adults. Researchers believe that the conditions in the neighborhoods where people live increase their chances of getting type 2 diabetes. Rates of diabetes are highest among people living in poor neighborhoods.
 
People with type 2 diabetes develop a problem with the way their body secretes or responds to insulin, a hormone that regulates blood glucose levels. As a result, they have elevated blood sugar levels, which they must check multiple times per day and monitor their food intake. Researchers are working hard to understand more about what causes type 2 diabetes. Diabetes expert Dr. Howard Smith says, "People who live in neighborhoods where the majority of stores sell food with high calories and low nutritional value, such as fast food restaurants or convenience stores, are much more likely to develop diabetes." Several other scientific studies have supported the idea that people’s neighborhoods, including not having convenient or safe places to exercise, and being exposed to many advertisements selling high-calorie foods, are associated with the development of diabetes.
 
If left untreated, people with diabetes can become blind, have kidney damage, lose their limbs, or die. Physicians, health plans, employers, and policymakers are considering new ways to prevent diabetes, help patients manage their diabetes, and reduce this deadly epidemic. It is expected that the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, and Labor will consider several bills about diabetes in the upcoming session of Congress.
 
Some people with diabetes check their blood sugar with a device called a glucometer.
 
Having read this news article, please tell us if you agree with the following policies:
 
The government should impose higher taxes on food high in calories and fat, like it does for cigarettes.
 
  • strongly disagree
  • disagree
  • neutral
  • agree
  • strongly agree
The government should provide financial incentives to encourage grocery stores to locate in areas where there are few.
 
  • strongly disagree
  • disagree
  • neutral
  • agree
  • strongly agree
The government should regulate advertisements for junk food like it does for cigarettes and alcohol.
 
  • strongly disagree
  • disagree
  • neutral
  • agree
  • strongly agree

Generally speaking, do you usually think of yourself as a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent, or what?

  • Strong Democrat
  • Not so strong Democrat
  • Independent, close to Democrat
  • Independent
  • Independent, close to Republican
  • Not so strong Republican
  • Strong Republican
  • Don't know, haven't thought much about it

How you answered: 

Researchers affiliated with CBDSM and the School of Public Health have found that "Americans' opinions about health policy are polarized on political partisan lines. Democrats and Republicans differ in the ways that they receive and react to messages about the social determinants of health."

In the study, lead author Sarah Gollust, PhD, randomly assigned participants to read one of four hypothetical news articles about type 2 diabetes. Diabetes was used as an example of a common health issue that is widely debated and that is known to have multiple contributing factors, including genetic predisposition, behavioral choices, and social determinants (such as income or neighborhood environments).

The articles were identical except for the causal frame embedded in the text. The article that you read in this Decision of the Month presented social determinants as a cause for type 2 diabetes. Other versions of the article presented genetic predisposition or behavioral choices as a cause for type 2 diabetes, and one version had no causal language.

Dr. Gollust then asked the study participants their views of seven nonmedical governmental policies related to the environmental, neighborhood, or economic determinants of diabetes:

  • bans on fast food concessions in public schools
  • incentives for grocery stores to establish locations where there are currently few
  • bans on trans fat in restaurants
  • government investment in parks
  • regulating junk food advertisements
  • imposing taxes on junk foods
  • subsidizing the costs of healthy food

Dr. Gollust also asked participants their political party identification and a number of other self-reported characteristics.

The most dramatic finding of this study was that the news story with the social determinants as a cause for type 2 diabetes had significantly different effects on the policy views of participants, depending on whether they identified themselves as Democrats or Republicans. After reading the social determinants article, Democrats expressed a higher level of support for the proposed public health policies. Republicans expressed a lower level of support for the proposed public health policies. This effect occurred only in the group of participants who were randomly assigned to read the version of the news article with social determinants given as a cause for type 2 diabetes. Dr. Gollust summarizes: "Exposure to the social determinants message produced a divergence of opinion by political party, with Democrats and Republicans differing in their opinions by nearly 0.5 units of the 5-point scale."

The study suggests several possible explanations for these results:

"First, the social determinants media frame may have presumed a liberal worldview to which the Republican study participants disagreed or found factually erroneous (ie, not credible), but with which Democrats felt more comfortable or found more familiar. . . Second, media consumption is becoming increasingly polarized by party identification, and . . . the social determinants message may have appeared particularly biased to Republicans. . .Third, the social determinants frame may have primed, or activated, study participants' underlying attitudes about the social group highlighted in the news article. . . Fourth, participants' party identification likely serves as proxy for . . . values held regarding personal versus social responsibility for health."

Dr. Gollust and her colleagues conclude that if public health advocates want to mobilize the American public to support certain health policies, a segmented communication approach may be needed. Some subgroups of Americans will not find a message about social determinants credible. These subgroups value personal responsibility and find social determinants antagonistic to their worldview. To avoid triggering immediate resistance by these citizens to information about social determinants of health, public health advocates may consider the use of information about individual behavioral factors in educational materials, while working to build public familiarity with and acceptance of research data on social determinants.

For more details about this study:

Gollust SE, Lantz PM, Ubel PA, The polarizing effect of news media messages about the social determinants of health, Am J Public Health 2009, 99:2160-2167.
 

 

How We Can Help

CBSSM offers a variety of resources and tools that have broad applicability.

Please consider attending one of our working group meetings. These meetings provide a forum for project focused discussions and interdisciplinary collaborations. Presenters can receive feedback on a range of issues, from project inception and grant applications to manuscript drafts.

As part of our ongoing research efforts, CBSSM investigators often create methodological tools that have broad applicability beyond the specific research projects for which they were developed. We are pleased to make these tools available to all researchers and non-profit organizations, subject only to appropriate attribution in work products (materials and/or manuscripts).Please explore the following tools:

Interactive Decision

At CBSSM, we perform the basic and applied scientific research that will improve health care policy and practice to benefit patients and their families, health care providers, third-party payers, policy makers, and the general public.  In our "Interactive Decision" web feature, we turn a recent research finding into an interactive decision that a patient or policy maker might face.  Read, decide, click—and see how your answers compare with our respondents.

Impact of the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System on Vaccine Acceptance and Trust (Aug-17)

Patient understanding of blood test results (Feb-17)

Attitudes toward Return of Secondary Results in Genomic Sequencing (Sep-16)

Moral concerns and the willingness to donate to a research biobank (Jun-16)

Liver Transplant Organ Quality Decision Aid: Would you consider a less than perfect liver? (Jan-16)

Blocks, Ovals, or People Icons in Icon Array Risk Graphics? (Sept-15)

Getting ahead of illness: using metaphors to influence medical decision making (May-15)

 

 

How much will chemotherapy really help you? (Dec-08)

After breast cancer surgery, additional treatments such as chemotherapy can reduce the risk of cancer coming back. But do women understand how much (or little) benefit chemotherapy provides? Imagine that you're a woman who has recently been diagnosed with breast cancer and then had the cancerous breast tumor surgically removed. While you're at an appointment about 3 weeks after your surgery, your doctor says the following to you:

"Sometimes cancer cells remain after surgery and start to grow again. To try to prevent your cancer from growing again, you should consider having some additional treatment.

"One of our test results shows that you have a type of cancer that is estrogen receptive (ER) positive. This means that your cancer needs the hormone estrogen in order to grow.

"Because you have an ER-positive tumor, you should have hormonal therapy to block estrogen and make it harder for any remaining cancer cells to grow. Hormonal therapy is usually in pill form. It does not cause hair loss or fatigue and generally has very few short-term side effects. You'll start to take hormonal therapy after all other treatments are finished and continue to take it for at least 5 years.

"Although it's clear that you should have hormonal therapy, you'll still need to make a choice about chemotherapy treatments. You could decide to have additional chemotherapy treatments for several months before starting the hormonal therapy. Sometimes, adding chemotherapy can make a big difference in decreasing the risk of dying from cancer. Other times, there's almost no benefit from adding chemotherapy.

"If you decide to have chemotherapy, you'll have 2 to 4 months of fatigue, nausea, hair loss, and other side effects. You'll also face a small risk (less than 1% or less than 1 in 100) of getting a serious infection, a bleeding problem, heart failure, or leukemia. Only you can decide if the benefit of adding chemotherapy to hormonal therapy is worth the risks and side effects."

Next, your doctor shows you a graph that may help you to decide about chemotherapy.

Your doctor says, "The graph below may help you decide if the risk reduction you would get from adding chemotherapy is worth the side effects and risks that the chemotherapy would cause.

  • The green part shows the chance that you'll be alive in 10 years.
  • The red part shows the chance that you'll die because of cancer.
  • The blue part shows the chance that you'll die from other causes.
  • The yellow part shows how much your chance of being alive in 10 years would increase if you add a therapy.
"Remember, given your situation, I think you should definitely take hormonal therapy. What you need to decide is whether to take both chemotherapy and hormonal therapy."
 
In interpreting this graph, imagine that there are two groups of 100 women each. All of these women have the same type of cancer as your hypothetical cancer.
  • The first group all decides to take hormonal therapy only.
  • The second group all decides to take both chemotherapy and hormonal therapy

How many fewer women will die from cancer in the second group, as compared with the first group?

Your doctor continues, "Now, here is another graph that shows the same information in a different way. As before,

  • The green part shows the chance that you'll be alive in 10 years.
  • The red part shows the chance that you'll die because of cancer.
  • The blue part shows the chance that you'll die from other causes.
  • The yellow part shows how much your chance of being alive in 10 years would increase if you add a therapy.
Now we asked you to consider the following question:
How many fewer women will die from cancer in the second group, as compared with the first group?
Do you want to change your answer?
 

About the study

Many participants who saw this graph in a study conducted by CBDSM researchers had similar problems. However, when study participants saw GRAPH B (with the two pictographs), many more were able to correctly calculate the difference.

The CBDSM study compared tools intended to help cancer patients make informed decisions about additional therapies (also called "adjuvant" therapies). The 4 horizontal stacked bars were taken from an online tool called "Adjuvant!" that is often used by physicians to explain risk to cancer patients. The researchers compared comprehension of risk statistics from horizontal bars and from a pictograph format.

They found that study participants who viewed a 2-option pictograph version (GRAPH B in this Decision of the Month) were more accurate in reporting the risk reduction achievable from adding chemotherapy to hormonal therapy for the hypothetical cancer scenario. With GRAPH B, 77% of participants could identify that 2 fewer women out of 100 would die from cancer with both chemotherapy and hormonal therapy. With the 4 horizontal bars (GRAPH A), only 51% of participants could make this calculation. Participants who saw GRAPH B were also much faster at answering this question than participants who saw GRAPH A.
In addition, participants in this study strongly preferred the format of the pictograph you saw (GRAPH B) to the bar graphs you saw (GRAPH A).
The researchers comment:
"While decision support tools such as Adjuvant! use graphical displays to communicate the mortality risks that patients face with different adjuvant therapy options, our research shows that women had difficulty interpreting the 4-option horizontal bar graph format currently used by Adjuvant!. Two simple changes, displaying only risk information related to treatment options that included hormonal therapy...and using pictographs instead of horizontal bars, resulted in significant improvements in both comprehension accuracy and speed of use in our demographically diverse sample....The results...support the concept that simpler information displays can make it easier for decision makers to implement optimal decision strategies. Specifically, focusing patients' attention on those treatment options currently under consideration while removing information related to options which have been already eliminated from consideration (for medically appropriate reasons) may be particularly beneficial. In the context of adjuvant therapy decisions, such an approach would imply that clinicians should discuss the decision in two stages: A first stage in which hormonal therapy is considered and a second stage in which the incremental benefit of chemotherapy is evaluated...Adjuvant! and other online risk calculators enable oncologists and patients to receive individually tailored estimates of mortality and recurrence risks, information that is essential to informed decision making about adjuvant therapy questions. Yet, the full potential of these modeling applications cannot be realized if users misinterpret the statistics provided."
 
Read the article:
Zikmund-Fisher BJ, Fagerlin A, Ubel PA. Cancer 2008;113(12):3382-3390.

 

Supporting information for: 2015 CBSSM Research Colloquium and Bishop Lecture (Lawrence O. Gostin, J.D., LL.D Hon.)

Natalie Bartnik, MPH, Research Associate, HBHE Genetics Research Group, UM School of Public Health: "Why, how and when oncologists disclose genome sequencing results in clinical practice"

Abstract: Integrating an individual’s clinical history with genome sequencing data can inform diagnostic and treatment strategies tailored to the patient’s mutational landscape. In oncology, precision medicine offers the additional opportunity to characterize novel gene targets for patients with cancer who lack known or viable targets. It is not known whether oncologists communicate sequencing results to patients, or how and why oncologists integrate sequencing profiles into clinical practice. In a survey of 43 oncologists who referred 111 patients to the MIONCOSEQ Study, we found that nearly a quarter of oncologists planned to make changes to their patient’s treatment based on genomic findings. Prominent barriers to the integration of sequencing results into clinical practice were a lack of findings with perceived clinical significance, as well as limitations in locally available clinical trials. The majority of physicians planned to communicate sequencing results to their patients, mostly via in-person clinic visits.


Michele Gornick, PhD, MICHR PTSP Postdoctoral Fellow, VA HSRD Fellow & CBSSM Research Investigator: "Information and deliberation make a difference: The public’s preferences for the return of secondary genomic findings"

Abstract: As genome sequencing becomes a part of clinical practice, how best to disclose sequencing results –including secondary findings-- raises significant issues. Expert consensus panels have been convened to provide recommendations, but what do members of the public want? In order to address this gap, we organized a deliberative democracy (DD) session to educate members of the public on genome sequencing, to engage them in dialogue about the benefits and risks of the clinical implementation of this technology, and to elicit their informed perspectives about policies governing the return of secondary findings. A significant shift in participants’ perspectives on the disclosure of adult onset conditions from the baseline survey, that remained stable after a month follow-up (response rate = 87%; Χ2(1, N=60) = 4.26, p =0.039), suggests the value of education and deliberation for the appreciation of the scientific and ethical complexities of genome sequencing.


Aaron Scherer, PhD, CBSSM Postdoctoral Fellow: "Elephants, Donkeys, and Medicine: Political Differences in Health Risk Perceptions and Adherence to Medical Recommendations"

The relationship between political ideology and health is often relegated to discussions of health care policy. But what if political ideology affects much more than health care policy preferences? I will discuss two studies that provide some initial evidence that political ideology influences our perceptions of health risks and adherence to medical recommendations. In one study examining risk communication strategies, political ideology was related to differences in perceptions of Ebola and influenza risk, as well as willingness to vaccinate against these two infectious diseases. In a second study examining beliefs in medical conspiracies, political ideology was related to differences in self-reported adherence to doctor’s recommendations and prescription use. The psychological differences between conservatives and liberals that may help illuminate why these differences exist will be discussed.

Stephanie Kukora, MD and Nathan Gollehon, MD, Fellows, Division of Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, UM Mott Children’s Hospital: "Epidemiology of outpatient prenatal consultation: implications for decision-making and perinatal outcomes"

Abstract: Neonatologists provide anticipatory guidance and support decision-making for complicated pregnancies, in which poor/ambiguous prognostication can lead to over-/under-treatment.  Referral to antenatal palliative care consultation (PCC) is not standard; little is known about the basis for referral, and their role in perinatal decision-making.

117 women had outpatient neonatology consultation, with decision-making for 146 fetuses with multiple anomalies/genetic, single major anomaly, or obstetric complications. 18(12%) were given a prognosis of uniform non-survival and 41(28%) had anticipated survival with intervention. Remaining fetuses were given unknown prognoses 87(60%), some qualified “likely survivable” 17(12%) or “likely poor” 33(23%). Most prognoses aligned with outcomes, though outcomes were better than predicted in 3(2%) infants and worse in 10(7%).  Mismatches between prognosis and decision occurred in 10(7%) infants who were provided resuscitation despite “non-survival” or “likely poor” prognoses.

23 (19.7%) of the 117 mother/fetus pairs received antenatal PCC.  Prognoses included: 11(48%) non-survivable, 11(48%) unknown but likely poor, 1(4%) survivable with surgical intervention. Fetal/neonatal outcome included: fetal demise 5(22%), in-hospital death 16(70%), survival to discharge 2(9%). 22 maternal/fetal pairs with 3(13%) non-survivable and 19(86%) likely poor prognoses were not referred, but had similar outcomes: fetal demise 4(18%), in-hospital death 15(68%), survival to discharge 3(14%). Those with PCC were more likely to choose comfort-care than those without (61% vs. 18%, p < 0.01). Of non-survivors, 94% with PCC died within 4 days while 27% without PCC received >14 days of intensive care.

We identified relatively few cases of mismatch between prognosis and outcome; however, rare cases of prognostic failure warrant caution. Although allowing parents to pursue aggressive neonatal care respects autonomy, it may delay rather than prevent death. Long-term outcomes with and without PCC were similar for infants with poor prognoses, though non-survivors with PCC were more likely to have a comfort care plan and shorter time to in-hospital death.


Minnie Bluhm, PhD, MPH, Assistant Professor, School of Health Sciences, Eastern Michigan University: "Oncologists' decisions about administering late chemotherapy: What makes it so difficult?"

Abstract: Background. An estimated 20-50% of incurable cancer patients receive chemotherapy in the last 30 days of life, although little data support this practice.  Continued use of chemotherapy typically precludes hospice enrollment.  It may also result in more symptoms, increased use of aggressive treatments, and worsening quality of life.  Despite this, few studies have explored oncologists' rationales for administering chemotherapy during the last weeks of life.  The purpose of this study is to examine factors that oncologists report influence their decisions about late chemotherapy.

Methods. In-depth individual interviews were conducted with 17 oncologists using a semi-structured interview guide.  Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim.  Transcripts were coded and content analyzed for themes and patterns.

Results.  Three key findings emerged.  1) Clinical factors drive oncologists’ late chemotherapy decisions when they point to clear treatment choices, along with patient preferences.  When clinical factors are ambiguous, non-clinical factors become more salient.  2) Late chemotherapy is patient-driven.  It is used to palliate physical and emotional symptoms and maintain patient hope, even when physical benefit is not expected.  3) Caring for dying patients is difficult and impacts oncologists and their treatment decisions.  Difficulties also cited as influences favoring treatment include: emotional exhaustion, difficulty communicating about stopping or not starting chemotherapy, overwhelming sense of responsibility for life and death, feeling badly about the limits of oncology to heal, and prognostic uncertainty.

Conclusions.  Findings reveal a nuanced understanding of why it can be so difficult for oncologists to refuse chemotherapy to patients near death.  Doing so adds to the existing burden of caring for dying patients.  Therefore, at times, oncologists prescribe chemotherapy to simply help everyone feel better, regardless of expected clinical benefits or costs.  Future work is needed on the impact of caring for dying patients on oncologists and on supportive interventions that promote optimal treatment decisions.

Danielle Czarnecki, PhD Candidate, UM Department of Sociology: "Moral Women, Immoral Technologies: How Devout Women Negotiate Maternal Desires, Religion, and Assisted Reproductive Technologies"

Abstract: Catholicism is the most restrictive world religion in its position on assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs). The opposition of the Church, combined with the widespread acceptability of ARTs in the U.S., creates a potentially profound moral dilemma for those who adhere to Church doctrine. Drawing on interviews from 33 Catholic women, this study shows that devout women have different understandings of these technologies than non or less religious women. These differences are rooted in devout women’s position of navigating two contradictory cultural schemas (Sewell 1992) —“religious” and “secular”—regarding the meaning of reproductive technologies in the contemporary U.S. Religious schemas provide devout women with different cultural resources that allow them to develop strategies to avoid the use of ARTs. Yet they must still reckon with the ideal of biological parenthood. I show how devout women draw on religious doctrine to find value and meaning in their suffering , to move beyond biological motherhood,  and to ultimately achieve a moral femininity. While religion increases the burden of reproduction for devout women, it also provides the cultural resources to resist the financial, emotional, and physical difficulties experienced by women who use ARTs.


Uchenna Ezeibe, MD, Resident Physician, UMHS Department of Pediatrics & Communicable Diseases: "Pediatric Ethics Consultation Service at a Tertiary Hospital: A Retrospective Review"

Abstract: Background: Published data about hospital ethics consultation services focus primarily on adult patients. There is little information on pediatric ethics consultations – specifically whether patient demographics were related to type and prevalence of consults.

Objective: To review recent ethics consults at a large children’s hospital and explore associations with patient demographics.

Design/Methods: We reviewed ethics consults between 7/1/2009 – 12/31/2013 at a Midwest children’s hospital. We used Armstrong Clinical Ethics Coding System 2013©, modified for pediatrics, to code consults. We collected data on patient race, age, and insurance status (private vs. public) as a proxy for socioeconomic status. We used Microsoft Excel 2013© to generate descriptive statistics.

Results:, approximately 321,713 inpatient visits, and 29 ethics consults were reviewed. Most consults (72.5%) concerned inpatients. Of these, 82% originated from 1 of 3 ICUs (neonatal, pediatric, and pediatric-cardiothoracic). The most common reasons for consultation were: 1) treatment-based decision-making (31%),); 2) end-of-life decisions (28%); & 3) substitute decision-making (24%).  The mean patient age for treatment-based and substitute decision-making consults were similar at 6.8 and 7.9 years, respectively.  Younger patients (mean age: 2.4 years) were involved in end-of-life dilemmas. Patients receiving consults differed from the general patient population in that fewer patients with consults were White (52% vs. 71%) and more were  African-American (34.5% vs 9%).  Approximately 76% of patients with ethics consults had public insurance compared to approximately 29% amongst all inpatient admissions.

Conclusion:  In this single-center retrospective review, we found that African-Americans and patients with public insurance were over-represented in receipt of ethics consultations compared to the general patient population. We also found that dilemmas about end-of-life decisions were more common for younger children. Given our small numbers, strong conclusions cannot be drawn from this data. Nevertheless, our findings do point to areas where communication between family and medical team can be improved.
 

Do You Know Enough to Take That Medication? (Feb-11)

People in the U.S. make decisions about their health on a regular basis. For example,they are often asked to consider taking medication to treat common health problems, such as hypertension. But do patients have sufficient information to make these decisions? And what factors might influence the knowledge patients have, and their treatment decisions?

Consider this scenario:

Bob is a 52-year-old man who went to see his physician for a routine check-up. Bob’s doctor told him his cholesterol levels were slightly elevated and suggested cholesterol medication. Bob wondered how long he would have to take the medication, and whether there would be any side effects. Please answer the following two questions about cholesterol medications.

When people start taking cholesterol medications, how long is it usually recommended that they take them?

  • less than 6 months
  • 6-12 months
  • 1-3 years
  • for the rest of their lives

How do your answers compare?

Making an informed medical decision about whether to take cholesterol medications depends, at least in part, on understanding how long a medication should be taken and whether there are side effects. CBSSM investigators Angela Fagerlin, Mick Couper, and Brian Zikmund-Fisher recently published an article on patient knowledge from the DECISIONS study, a large survey of U.S. adults about common medical decisions. One main objective of the study was to determine adults’ knowledge about information relevant to common types of medication, screening, or surgery decisions they recently made. Data were collected from 2575 English-speaking adults aged 40 years and older who reported having discussed common medical decisions with a health care provider within the previous two years. Participants answered knowledge questions and rated the importance of their health care provider, family/friends, and the media as sources of information about common medical issues.

People taking cholesterol medications usually should take them for about 3 or more years, and perhaps even for the rest of their lives. A little more than 60% of the study respondents accurately identified the time to take cholesterol medications.

Many people have trouble with this question and do not know that muscle pain is the most commonly reported side effect of cholesterol medications. Only 17% of DECISIONS study respondents were able to answer this question correctly. About 1 in 5 respondents incorrectly identified liver problems as the most common side effect of cholesterol medications.

Overall, the investigators found that patient knowledge of key facts relevant to recently made medical decisions was often poor. In addition, knowledge varied widely across questions and decision contexts. For example, 78% of patients considering cataract surgery correctly estimated typical recovery time, compared to 29% of patients considering surgery for lower back pain or 39% of patients considering a knee or hip replacement. Similarly, in thinking about cancer screening tests, participants were more knowledgeable of facts about colorectal cancer screening than those who were asked about breast or prostate cancer. Respondents were consistently more knowledgeable on questions about blood pressure medication than cholesterol medication or antidepressants.

The impact of demographic characteristics and sources of information also varied substantially. For example, black respondents had lower knowledge than white respondents about cancer screening decisions and medication, even after controlling for other demographic factors. Researchers found no race differences for surgical decisions, however.

The authors concluded by noting that improving patient knowledge about risks, benefits, and characteristics of medical procedures is essential to support informed decision making.

For more information: 

Fagerlin A, Sepucha KR, Couper M, Levin CA, Singer E, Zikmund-Fisher BJ. Patients' knowledge about 9 common health conditions: The DECISIONS survey. Medical Decision Making 2010;30:35S-52S.

 

A Matter of Perspective (Jul-07)

Are opinions on whether health care funding should be rationed dependent on an individual's perspective? Imagine that there are two regional health systems, each responsible for providing health care for one million people. The Director of each system has enough money to fund only one of two medical treatment programs. The health systems have the same limited budget and are the same in every way except for the treatment program that each Director decides to fund.

One Director decides to fund Program A, which will cure 100 people with moderate shortness of breath. People with this condition have shortness of breath when walking an average block with no hills.
The other Director decides to fund Program B, which will cure 100 people with severe shortness of breath. People with this condition have shortness of breath even when walking only short distances, such as from the bedroom to the bathroom.
Which Director made the better decision?
  • Director who funded Program A (moderate shortness of breath)
  • Director who funded Program B (severe shortness of breath)
  • Both choices were equally good
If you chose either the Program A Director or the Program B Director, how may how many people would have to be cured of other condition to make the two choices seem equally good to you? Reminder: Program A and Program B would both cure 100 people.
 
Next, please check your responses to these statements:
"The thought of only one group of people being able to get treatment while other people may not be able to get treatment makes me feel outraged."
  • strongly agree
  • agree
  • neutral
  • disagree
  • strongly disagree
"I believe that there are situations where health care has to be rationed because sometimes there are not enough financial resources (eg, money for health care programs)."
  • strongly agree
  • agree
  • neutral
  • disagree
  • strongly disagree

How do your answers compare?

Before we analyze your responses to the scenario, we'd like to offer some background information about this area of research.

In an environment of scarce health care resources, policy makers and leaders of health care organizations often must make difficult choices about funding treatment programs. Researchers find out how people value different health states by asking questions like the ones you've answered. This area of research is called "person tradeoff elicitation."

The problem is that many people refuse to give a comparison value, saying that both choices are equal ("equivalence refusal") or saying that millions of people would have to be cured of one condition to be equal to the other treatment choice ("off-scale refusal"). Sometimes these responses are appropriate, but many times these responses seem inappropriate. Furthermore, the frequency of these decision refusals depends on how the questions are asked.

What were the specific goals of this research study?

In an article published by Laura J. Damschroder, Todd R. Roberts, Brian J. Zikmund-Fisher, and Peter A. Ubel (Medical Decision Making, May/June 2007), the authors explored whether people would be more willing to make health care tradeoffs if they were somewhat removed from the decision making role. As part of their study, the researchers asked people to comment on choices made by others, in this case, the Directors of two identical regional health systems. For this study, the researchers anticipated that asking participants to judge someone else's decision would make it easier for the participants to compare the benefit of curing two conditions that have a clear difference in severity. The researchers thought that adopting a perspective of judging someone else's decision might lessen the participants' feeling about making "tragic choices" between groups of patients and hence result in fewer refusals to choose. The researchers also hypothesized that respondents taking a non-decision-maker perspective would be more detached and would feel less outraged about the idea of having to ration medical treatments. As we will explain below, the researchers were surprised to learn that their hypotheses were wrong!

What did this research study find?

Some people surveyed in this study were asked to decide for themselves which of two treatment programs for shortness of breath should be funded. Others, like you, were asked which health system Director made the better decision about treatment programs for shortness of breath. Significantly, the respondents who had the evaluator perspective had nearly two times higher odds of giving an equivalence refusal�that is, saying that the decisions were equal. Why did this evaluator perspective fail to decrease these decision refusals? One possibility is that respondents did not feel as engaged in the decision. It's also possible that respondents felt that they were judging the Directors who made the decision rather than the decision itself. Or maybe respondents didn't want to second-guess the decisions of people they perceived as experts. The researchers predicted that people who had to make the decision about treatment themselves would be more outraged about the idea of rationing health care treatments. This prediction was also wrong! 69% of all respondents agreed that rationing is sometimes necessary, and yet 66% of all respondents also felt outraged about the idea of having to ration. The percentages were nearly the same for those deciding directly and those evaluating the decision of Directors of health care systems.

What conclusions did the researchers draw?

The researchers in this study concluded that perspective definitely matters in making hard choices about allocation of health care resources. They attempted to increase people's willingness to make tradeoffs by changing their perspective from decision maker to evaluator of someone else's decision. These attempts backfired. Contrary to the researchers' predictions, people were dramatically more likely to give equivalence refusals when they were assigned to a non-decision-maker perspective. The researchers also concluded that the degree of emotion aroused by health care rationing also plays a role in people's willingness to make tradeoffs.

So, how does your response to the Directors' decision in the shortness-of-breath scenario compare with the responses of the people surveyed for this study?

If you responded that the choices of both Directors were equal, you were not alone! Overall, with this scenario and related ones, 32% of respondents in the published study refused to make the tradeoff. These were the equivalence refusals. In comparison, 21% of respondents in the study who were asked to decide themselves between two patient groups gave an equivalence refusal.

If you made a choice of Directors in the shortness-of-breath scenario, how does your numerical answer compare with the responses of people surveyed for this study?

In the study, 15% of respondents gave a number of one million or more as the point at which the Directors' decisions about the two treatment programs would be equal. These were the off-scale refusals. In comparison, 19% of respondents in the study who were asked to decide themselves about the two programs gave an off-scale refusal.

What about your level of outrage?

In the study, 69% of respondents agreed that rationing of health care treatment is sometimes necessary, but 66% also felt outraged about the idea of having to ration. These attitudes were the same whether the respondents were assigned an evaluator perspective (as you were) or a direct decision maker perspective.

Read the article:

Why people refuse to make tradeoffs in person tradeoff elicitations: A matter of perspective?
Damschroder LJ, Roberts TR, Zikmund-Fisher BJ, Ubel PA. Medical Decision Making 2007;27:266-288.

 

Fri, October 04, 2013

The US News & World Report quoted Sarah Hawley and cited her research in a story about the tendency of young women with breast cancer to overestimate their risk of getting cancer in the opposite, healthy breast. 

An excerpt from the article, "Unfounded Fear Prompts Some Preventive Mastectomies: Study":

The findings echo some previous research, according to Sarah Hawley, an associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Health System, in Ann Arbor. In her study, presented last year at a medical meeting, Hawley found that nearly 70 percent of women choosing the contralateral prophylactic mastectomy actually had a low risk of developing cancer in the healthy breast.

"Their findings are consistent with ours, in that desire to prevent cancer in the non-affected breast is a big reason patients reported for getting [contralateral prophylactic mastectomy]," Hawley said.

Better communication is needed to be sure women know the risks and benefits, and lack of benefit of getting the preventive surgery, Hawley pointed out. Better strategies to help patients manage anxiety and worry would help, too, she added.

 

Research Topics: 

Brian Zikmund-Fisher, PhD, a CBSSM investigator and Director of the CBSSM Internet Survey lab, is the principal investigator on an Investigator Initiated Research award from the Foundation for Informed Medical Decision Making that began in October 2008.  The grant, entitled "Learning by Doing: Improving Risk Communication Through Active Processing of Interactive Pictographs," will fund the development and testing of of Flash-based interactive risk graphics that research participants or patients can use to visually demonstrate how likely they believe some event is to occur. Dr. Zikmund-Fisher hopes that people who create risk graphics themselves will have a better intuitive understanding of risk than people who just view static images. Co-investigators on the award include Angela Fagerlin, Peter A. Ubel, and Amanda Dillard.

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