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Fri, August 16, 2013
1 in 5 women don't believe a tailored breast cancer risk assessment, according to a new study published by CBSSM researchers.

The findings were published in Patient Education and Counseling as part of a larger study where women participated in an online program to learn about medications that can reduce their risk of breast cancer. As part of the program, women who were at above-average risk of developing breast cancer received tailored information about their personal breast cancer risk. The risk assessment tool took into account family history and personal health habits, yet nearly 20 percent of women did not believe their breast cancer risk.

The study has also recently been discussed in CBS “Morning Rounds” (go to 1:45 of video clip) and NPR Shots.

Lead author Laura Scherer completed the research while serving as a CBSSM Post-Doctoral Research Fellow. Senior author Angela Fagerlin is the Co-Director of CBSSM and the Director of the CBSSM Post-Doctoral Fellowship Program.

Dr. Jeff Kullgren and Dr. John Ayanian testified before the Michigan Health Care Cost and Quality Advisory Committee regarding the feasibility of and policy options for creating an All-Payer Claims Database (APCD) in Michigan.

Established by the Healthy Michigan Legislation (PA 107 of 2013), the Committee is composed of cabinet-level leadership from the state's Departments of Community Health and Insurance and Financial Services, as well as leadership from the Michigan House and Senate Health Policy Committees. The Committee is tasked with reviewing existing efforts across the United State to make health care cost and quality more transparent. Dr. Ayanian and Dr. Kullgren shared their research and practical expertise with the Committee by discussing a broad range of issues related to the feasibility of an APCD in Michigan, including governance structure; funding sources; data collection, storage, and security issues; and opportunities for research and innovation. 

[ From IHPI Policy Corner]

Joseph Colbert, BA

Research Associate

Joseph joined CBSSM as a Research Area Specialist in November 2017. As a project manager, he coordinates the daily operations of Dr. Jeffrey Kullgren’s project “Provider, Patient, and Health System Effects of Provider Commitments to Choose Wisely,” a grant funded research project using novel approaches to reduce the overuse of low-value services in healthcare.

Last Name: 
Colbert

In the January-February issue of IRB: Ethics & Human Research, Scott Y.H. Kim, Raymond de Vries, Renee Wilson, Sonali Parnami, Samuel Frank, Karl Kieburtz, and Robert G. Holloway present results of a study about the therapeutic orientation of research participants.

The authors examined the relationship between understanding and appreciation of randomization probabilities in 29 individuals recruited for a sham surgery controlled intervention study in Parkinson's disease. 83% provided the correct, quantitative answer to the understanding question; of those, one group (55%) answered the appreciation question correctly using quantitative terms, whereas the remaining group (45%) provided only qualitative comments.

The therapeutic orientation of research participants raises concerns about the adequacy of consent because such an orientation could cloud understanding of key elements of research. Further, even if participants understand (i.e., intellectually comprehend) elements of research, they may not appreciate them because they fail to apply such facts to themselves.

Study participants frequently made "unrealistic" probability statements, even while providing correct quantitative responses. Analysis showed that this apparent "irrationality" may in fact hide a deeper rationality -- namely, conversational rationality, which is part of the contextual nature of meaning conveyed in everyday language. Ignoring conversational rationality may lead to wrongly labeling research subjects as irrational. Click here for more information.

Michele Heisler, MD, MPA

Faculty

Michele Heisler, MD, MPA, is Professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School, Professor, School of Public Health, and Research Scientist at the Ann Arbor VA's Center for Clinical Research Management. Dr. Heisler's clinical interest is chronic disease, with a focus on diabetes. Her research centers on patient self-management of chronic illnesses, patient-doctor relations and disparities in processes and outcomes in chronic illnesses.

Last Name: 
Heisler

Supporting information for: 2018 CBSSM Research Colloquium and Bishop Lecture (Barbara Koenig, PhD)

Parent Perceptions of Antenatal Consultation for Extreme Prematurity
Presenter: Stephanie Kukora, MD
 

Co-authors: Naomi Laventhal, MD, MA; Haresh Kirpilani, MD; Ursula Guillen, MD
 

Antenatal consultation (AC) for extreme prematurity is routine in neonatology practice, but questions remain about how best to meet the needs of expectant parents. Decision-aids have demonstrated improvement in communication of statistical outcomes, but whether they are uniformly helpful in AC, and whether provision of outcome data is essential to shared decision-making in the AC encounter remains uncertain.

To characterize the experience of parents threatened with extreme prematurity between 22 and 25 weeks gestation who received AC, identify aspects that parents perceived as favorable or unfavorable, and identify areas for improvement.

We analyzed free text responses of expectant parents enrolled in a multi-center randomized trial evaluating the use of a validated decision-aid (DA) compared to standard counseling. Qualitative thematic analysis of responses identified items valued for decision-making about delivery room resuscitation.

 201 parents were enrolled; 126 provided substantive free-text comments. 45 (36%) parents described their counseling experience positively.  31 (25%) reported a negative experience, and 23 (18%) offered suggestions for improvement.  Desire for a tailored approach was a major theme reported by many parents, with subthemes of too much or too little information, facts vs values-based counseling, and diverse learning styles.  Another major theme was shared decision-making. Subthemes included:  good or poor understanding of the decision/options; trust; parent engagement, feeling supported in decision-making.  Need for clinician sensitivity also emerged as a major theme, with subthemes of hope, thoughtful timing of AC, and identification and support of parents’ stress and emotions. 31 parents receiving AC with the DA (n=102) commented that visual depiction of the statistical information helpful.

Many parents expressed that factual information about outcomes was influential to their decisions, but some parents dislike this approach.  In addition to tailoring how and what information is communicated during AC, clinicians should be sensitive to parents’ individual needs in this context.

 

Hospice Care Quality in U.S. Nursing Homes Reported by Patients and Caregivers in Yelp Reviews

Presenter: Chithra Perumalswami, MD, MSc
 

Co-authors: Jayme Laurencelle, MD; Shawna O’Reilly, MD; Jennifer Griggs, MD, MPH; Raina Merchant, MD, MSHP
 

Background: The need to assess the quality of hospice care provided in nursing homes is a national priority. Patients and caregivers often utilize online forums such as Yelp to informally report on the experience of their healthcare episodes. These narratives are a unique data source and may provide valuable insights into the quality of care provided in U.S. nursing homes at the end of life.

Objective: To explore the content of Yelp reviews of nursing homes providing care at the end of life, specifically utilizing quality measures for palliative and hospice care determined by the National Quality Forum (NQF).

Methods: We performed a qualitative content analysis of 3560 Yelp reviews selected by a type of natural language processing.  The reviews were double coded and the final coding scheme incorporated concepts from all of the NQF domains. Larger themes were determined by consensus.

Results: Four themes were identified: 1) staff interpersonal expertise (empathic characteristics and effective communication), 2) staff technical competence (expertise in skills, staff attention, and efficiency of response), 3) systems issues (physical facility characteristics and cleanliness), and 4) patient wellbeing (physical and emotional wellbeing, family trust and confidence in care).

Conclusion: Yelp reviews of nursing homes providing hospice identify concepts that are mostly congruent with the current NQF domains. Medicare uses the NQF domains and preferred practices in the Hospice Quality Reporting Program (HQRP) to measure and report on quality. Utilizing Yelp reviews may help to identify additional quality measures, including a more nuanced view of aspects of quality of care in nursing homes at the end of life. Future research should focus on how to make such unprompted narratives more accessible and on how to incorporate additionally identified concepts regarding quality into the HQRP.


Impact of MCI on Patient and Care Partner Preferences and Physician Decision Making for Cardiovascular Treatment

Presenters: Bailey Reale, MPH; Emilie Blair
 

Co-authors: Darin Zahuranec, MD, MS; Kenneth Langa, PhD;  Jane Forman, ScD, MHS; Bruno Giordani, PhD; Brenda Plassman, PhD; Kathleen Welsh-Bohmer, PhD; Colleen Kollman, MBA; Deborah Levine, MD, MPH
 

Background: The leading cause of death for the 5.4 million older adults with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) in the US is cardiovascular disease (CVD). Despite this, patients with pre-existing MCI may receive fewer treatments for CVD events such compared to cognitively normal patients. We conducted interviews of patients, care partners, and physicians to understand how MCI influences decision making for CVD treatments.

Methods: Qualitative study based on in-depth, semi-structured, in-person interviews with patient-care partner dyads (n=23) and physicians (n=18) using a standard guide. We used qualitative content analysis to identify unifying and recurrent themes. We gathered reflections on data suggesting neurologists recommend fewer treatments for stroke to older adults with MCI and elicited how MCI influences patient-care partner preferences for 5 common CVD treatments. We also sought to understand how a patient’s having MCI influenced physicians’ decisions to recommend these 5 CVD treatments.

Results: Most MCI patients, cognitively normal patients, and their care partners wanted all 5 stroke treatments (Table 1). Participants reported several factors affecting their decision-making for treatment (Table 1). Some participants thought that physicians might recommend fewer stroke treatments to patients with pre-existing MCI because physicians have biases about MCI patients (Table 1).

Most physicians described MCI as influencing their recommendations for CVD treatments in at least one of five ways (Table 2). Physicians reported recommending CVD treatments less to MCI patients due to their assumptions about the MCI patients and MCI itself (Table 2).

Conclusions: MCI patients have similar preferences for treatments for CVD events as do cognitively normal patients, yet physicians often recommend these treatments less often to MCI patients. We need to better understand how physician recommendations contribute to potential underuse of effective CVD treatments in MCI patients in order to improve the quality of CVD care for this large and growing population.


It’s all about Context: A Mixed-Methods Study of Institutional Review Board’s Local Context Assessment
Presenter: Adrianne Haggins, MD


Co-authors: Deneil Harney; Sacha Montas, MD, JD; Joy Black, BSN, MS; Neil Dickert, MD, PhD; Timothy Guetterman, PhD; Michael Fetters, MD; Robert Silbergleit, MD


Background: Local context assessment ostensibly allows review boards to closely consider the potential impact to study populations, the institution, and local laws and regulations.  Given the trend toward utilization of central review boards for multicenter trials, a better understanding of single institution review board assessment processes are needed.

 Objective: To explore how local context assessments in multicenter trials are made by single institution review boards.

Methods: We used a mixed methods approach to explore attitudes and perceptions of key stakeholders.  We elicited stakeholder perspectives by observing, and audiotaping IRB deliberations of trials conducted under exception from informed consent (EFIC). In-depth semi-structured interviews (n=26) and an online survey (n=80, response rate=13%) were conducted of IRB stakeholders (IRB members, central review board members, regulatory officials, etc.). Two authors independently reviewed the observations and interview transcripts to identify meaningful statements, which were grouped into codes and broader themes.  Descriptive statistics were performed on the survey results.

Results: Deliberations related to local context highlighted the importance of taking into consideration: scientific rigor, community consultation and public disclosure process, as well as local laws/regulations, weighing relative benefit vs. risk, medical standards/practices, concerns of local groups, prior experiences with investigators and within the institution.  Themes from interviews underscored the important role investigators, and IRB community members are expected to play in knowing the local population and community. Top reasons for considering local context included: knowing about community concerns, showing respect for local public, and the influence of local laws/ordinances on clinical care.

Conclusion: Local context assessment provides a mechanism to ensure research and investigators are perceptive to the concerns and impact on the broader community. A wide variety of factors are considered. To further inform central review processes, future research is needed to differentiate which factors are essential for a high-quality local context assessment.   


Does Enhancing Individual Choice and Control Promote Freedom? Challenges in Contemporary Bioethics

Bishop Lecture Keynote Presenter: Barbara Koenig, PhD
 

Over the past three decades, the discipline of bioethics has advocated for enhanced patient choice and control over a range of medical decisions, from care near the end of life to participation in clinical research. Using two current policy challenges in California—1) the advent of legally sanctioned medical aid in dying and, 2) efforts to share UC Health “big data” from the electronic health record in research with private sector partners—Professor Koenig will explore how current bioethics practices may unintentionally and ironically impede our shared goals of promoting human freedom.

 

Drilling for Answers (Sep-08)

Find out about some experimental treatments for Parkinson's Disease. And then decide how you'd respond if you had a chance to participate in this research. In this interactive decision, we’re going to ask you about some experimental treatments for Parkinson’s Disease.

What is Parkinson’s Disease?

Up to 1 million Americans are currently diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, a brain disease that gradually worsens over many years and causes tremors, stiffness, slowness of movement, and balance problems. Some people with Parkinson’s Disease also experience changes in memory, concentration, and mood.

The average age at onset of symptoms is 65, but 5% to 10% have onset before the age of 45. The symptoms are caused by the death of cells in the brain that make a chemical called dopamine. Medications that are available to treat Parkinson’s Disease provide more dopamine to the brain or mimic the action of dopamine in the brain. In early stages of Parkinson’s Disease, symptoms generally respond well to medications. Over time, the medications become less effective and may cause more side effects.

What treatments are researchers developing?

One experimental procedure to treat moderate to advanced Parkinson’s Disease is gene transfer, which involves neurosurgery to insert a gene into the brain, to lower the side effects of medications and to increase the effectiveness of medications. Note that no stem cells or fetal cells are used. The patient is sedated but remains awake. The scalp is numbed by injections of local anesthetics (like Novocaine), so the patient should not feel discomfort. The surgeon drills two small holes into the skull and injects a liquid containing the gene on each side of the brain into areas known to be affected in Parkinson’s Disease.

How would gene transfer surgery be tested?

To see if the gene transfer surgery is truly effective, investigators need to compare a group that receives the gene transfer surgery with a group that does not. People would be randomly assigned (e.g., by flipping a coin) to one of the two groups. This kind of study could be done in two ways.

  • An open study could be done, where everyone knows who has and who has not received the gene transfer. One half of the patients would receive their usual medications only. The other half would receive their usual medications plus the gene transfer surgery.

  • A blinded study could be done, where neither the patient nor the evaluating researcher knows who has and who has not received the gene transfer. One half of the patients would receive their usual medications plus gene transfer surgery. The other half of the patients would receive their usual medications plus “sham surgery.” Patients receiving sham surgery have the two small holes drilled into the skull. But the protective coverings in the brain are not disturbed, and there is no insertion of any material into the brain.

    In a blinded study, only the surgeon would know who has received the gene transfer surgery and who has received sham surgery. If the gene transfer surgery is found to be both safe and effective, those in the sham surgery group would have the option of receiving the gene transfer at a later date without cost, using the holes drilled during the sham surgery.

What are the risks of these studies?

For surgery patients in both an open study and a blinded study, the surgery poses potential risks. There is a 1% to 4% risk of bleeding into the brain (usually minor, but there is a less than 1% chance that it could result in death or substantial disability). There is also a 1% to 5% risk of infection developing in the skin or brain, which would be treated with antibiotics. Overall, the risk of bleeding and infection is smaller for sham surgery than for actual gene transfer surgery.

Those subjects receiving the gene transfer surgery would face additional risks, including the possibility of brain tumors, inflammation of the brain, and a worsening of the Parkinson’s Disease. Patients in pilot studies have been followed for only one year, so longer-term effects are not known.

What are the pros and cons of the two kinds of studies?

When deciding whether or not to adopt a new procedure, it’s important to get accurate, unbiased evidence. If we adopt a new procedure that is unsafe or ineffective, people will end up receiving unnecessary surgeries. If we fail to adopt an effective procedure, we miss the opportunity to offer people a treatment that could benefit them.

Most, but not all, researchers in the field believe that the blinded study, using sham surgery, would provide better quality data than the open study. These researchers worry that if people know which procedure they receive, the results of the study may be difficult to interpret because expectations of both the patient and the evaluating researcher can unintentionally bias the results.

However, some people, including some researchers, worry that a study using sham surgery may not be worth the risks and burdens. The patients with Parkinson’s Disease who get the sham surgery undergo a neurosurgical procedure that provides no benefit to them, while being exposed to the risks and burdens of the procedure. There is also the worry that people with moderate to advanced Parkinson’s Disease are vulnerable to exploitation because having a serious, incurable illness may put them in a desperate situation.

Now, you decide!

Imagine that you have moderate to advanced Parkinson’s Disease. You can do most things independently, but involuntary movements interfere with your routine activities. Daily chores take twice as long compared to people without Parkinson’s Disease. For some parts of the day, your movement is extremely slow and you need help with daily activities.

You are asked to participate in either an open study or a blinded (sham surgery) study. Which study would you choose to participate in?
  • Blinded study (sham surgery)
  • Open study
  • Would not participate

Researchers have found that only about 35% of the general population would choose, as you did, to participate in the blinded study. As reported in a 2008 article in the journal Movement Disorders, about 55% of the general population would choose the open study, and the remaining 10% said they would not participate.

When these same questions were posed to people who actually have Parkinson’s Disease, the response was quite different: 24.5% picked the blinded study, 41.5% picked the open study, and 34% said they would not participate. The researchers observe that patients with chronic illness adapt to their disabilities; the people with Parkinson’s Disease might have felt that they had less to gain or more to lose from the benefits and risks associated with a trial involving surgery. Alternatively, people without Parkinson’s Disease may have over-estimated the impact that disability might have on them or underestimated their ability to function.

In this study, people were also asked to imagine that they were members of an ethics review committee deciding whether to allow certain studies. About 81% of respondents said that they would definitely or probably allow the open study for gene transfer. 55% said that they would definitely or probably allow the blinded (sham surgery) study. These results were the same for both the general population and people with Parkinson’s Disease. In other words, a very large majority of both Parkinson’s patients and non-Parkinson’s patients endorsed the open study as ethically acceptable. A majority endorsed sham surgery as an ethically acceptable control condition.

In analyzing these results and reading the written remarks added by the respondents, the researchers comment, “Education seems to play a strong role in people’s willingness to take a more societal perspective and balance the burdens to participants with the overall scientific and societal benefit. . . Those opposed to sham surgery appeared to have an intrinsic objection to blinding, and to focus on the invasive nature of the sham surgery per se . . .Given the complexity of the topic, it may be that laypersons, especially those with less education, may need more opportunity to learn and deliberate on the issues.”

Interestingly, scientists researching Parkinson’s Disease were presented with these same questions in a related study (Kim SY, Frank S, Holloway R, Zimmerman C, Wilson R, Kieburtz K. Science and ethics of sham surgery: A survey of Parkinson disease clinical researchers. Arch Neurol 2005;62:1357-1360.) Only 50% of these clinical researchers would allow open studies, and 94% would support controlled studies using sham surgery.

In conclusion, “Future research needs to determine whether eliciting more considered judgments of laypersons would reveal different levels of support for sham surgery.”

For a complete discussion of this research, see Frank S, Wilson R, Holloway R, Zimmerman C, Peterson A, Kieburtz K, Kim SY. Ethics of sham surgery: Perspective of patients. Movement Disorders 2008;23(1):63-68. The senior author, Scott Y. Kim, MD, PhD, is a faculty member at the Center for Behavioral and Decision Sciences at the University of Michigan.

Read the article:

Ethics of sham surgery: Perspective of patients.
Frank S, Wilson R, Holloway RG, Zimmerman C, Peterson DR, Kieburtz K, Kim SY. Movement Disorders 2008;23:63-8.

The Privileged Choices (Jan-08)

What's the difference between opting in and opting out of an activity? Who decides if people will be put automatically into one category or another? Click this interactive decision to learn how default options work.

Scenario 1

Imagine that you're a US Senator and that you serve on the Senate's Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. The Infectious Diseases Society of America has come before your committee because they believe that too many health care workers are getting sick with influenza ("flu") each year and infecting others. As a result, your Senate committee is now considering a new bill that would require that all health care workers get annual influenza vaccinations ("flu shots") unless the worker specifically refuses this vaccination in writing.

Do you think you would support this bill for mandatory flu shots for health care workers?

  • Yes
  • No

Scenario 2

Imagine that you're the human resources director at a mid-sized company that's initiating an employee retirement plan. Management is concerned that many employees are not saving enough for retirement. They're considering a policy that would automatically deduct retirement contributions from all employees' wages unless the employee fills out and submits a form requesting exemption from the automatic deductions.

Do you think a policy of automatic retirement deductions is reasonable for your company to follow?

  • Yes 
  • No

Scenario 3

Organ transplants save many lives each year, but there are always too many deserving patients and too few organs available. To try to improve the number of organs available for donation, the state legislature in your state is considering a new policy that all people who die under certain well-defined circumstances will have their organs donated to others. The system would start in three years, after an information campaign. People who do not want to have their organs donated would be given the opportunity to sign a refusal of organ donation when they renewed their drivers' licenses or state ID cards, which expire every three years. Citizens without either of these cards could also sign the refusal at any drivers' license office in the state. This is a policy similar to ones already in place in some European countries.

Does this seem like an appropriate policy to you?

  • Yes 
  • No

How do your answers compare?

For many decisions in life, people encounter default options-that is, events or conditions that will be set in place if they don't actively choose an alternative. Some default options have clear benefits and are relatively straightforward to implement, such as having drug prescriptions default to "generic" unless the physician checks the "brand necessary" box. Others are more controversial, such as the automatic organ donation issue that you made a decision about.

Default options can strongly influence human behavior. For example, employees are much more likely to participate in a retirement plan if they're automatically enrolled (and must ask to be removed, or opt out) than if they must actively opt in to the plan. Researchers have found a number of reasons for this influence of default options, including people's aversion to change.

But default options can seem coercive also. So, an Institute of Medicine committee recently recommended against making organ donation automatic in the US. One reason was the committee's concern that Americans might not fully understand that they could opt out of donation or exactly how they could do so.

The policy scenarios presented to you here have been excerpted from a 2007 article in the New England Journal of Medicine titled "Harnessing the Power of Default Options to Improve Health Care," by Scott D. Halpern, MD, PhD, Peter A. Ubel, MD, and David A. Asch, MD, MBA. Dr. Ubel is the Director of the Center for Behavioral and Decision Sciences in Medicine.

This article provides guidance for policy-makers in setting default options, specifically in health care. Generally, default options in health care are intended to promote the use of interventions that improve care, reduce the use of interventions that put patients at risk, or serve broader societal agendas, such as cost containment.

In this NEJM article, the researchers argue that default options are often unavoidable-otherwise, how would an emergency-room physician decide on care for an uninsured patient? Many default options already exist but are hidden. Without either returning to an era of paternalism in medicine or adopting a laissez-faire approach, the authors present ways to use default options wisely but actively, based on clear findings in the medical literature.

Some examples of default policies that may improve health care quality:

  • routine HIV testing of all patients unless they opt out.
  • removal of urinary catheters in hospital patients after 72 hours unless a nurse or doctor documents why the catheter should be retained.
  • routine ventilation of all newly intubated patients with lung-protective settings unless or until other settings are ordered.

Drs. Halpern, Ubel, and Asch conclude, "Enacting policy changes by manipulating default options carries no more risk than ignoring such options that were previously set passively, and it offers far greater opportunities for benefit."

Read the article:

Harnessing the power of default options to improve health care.
Halpern SD, Ubel PA, Asch DA. New England Journal of Medicine 2007;357:1340-1344.

David Sandberg, PhD

Faculty

Dr. Sandberg is a pediatric psychologist and clinical researcher.  As a pediatric psychologist, he delivers psychoeducational and behavioral health services to persons with endocrine disorders and their families, in particular, conditions affecting linear growth or disorders of sex development (DSD), i.e., congenital conditions in which development of sex chromosomes, gonads or sex anatomy is atypical.

Last Name: 
Sandberg

Give me colostomy or give me death! (Aug-06)

Click to decide between death and living with a colostomy. Which would you choose? Are you sure?

Given the choice, would you choose immediate death,or living with a colostomy (where part of your bowel is removed and you have bowel movements into a plastic pouch attached to your belly)?

  •  Immediate Death
  •  Colostomy

Think about what it would be like if you were diagnosed with colon cancer. You are given the option of choosing between two surgical treatments.The first is a surgery that could result in serious complications and the second has no chance of complications but has a higher mortality rate.

Possible outcome Surgery 1
(complicated)
Surgery 2 
(uncomplicated)
Cure without complication 80% 80%
Cure with colostomy 1%  
Cure with chronic diarrhea 1%  
Cure with intermittent bowel obstruction 1%  
Cure with wound infection 1%  
No cure (death) 16% 20%

If you had the type of colon cancer described above, which surgery do you think you would choose?

  • Surgery 1
  • Surgery 2

How do your answers compare?

In fact, past research has shown that 51% people choose the surgery with a higher death rate, even though most of them initially preferred each of the four surgical complications, including colostomy, over immediate death.

Are you saying what you really mean?

CBDSM investigators Brian Zikmund-Fisher, Angela Fagerlin, Peter Ubel, teamed up with Jennifer Amsterlaw, to see if they could reduce the number of people choosing the surgery with the higher rate of death and therefore reducing the discrepancy. A large body of past research has shown that people are notoriously averse to uncertainty. The investigators had a hunch that uncertainty could account for some of the discrepancy. Surgery 1 has a greater number of ambiguous outcomes, perhaps causing people to be averse to it. In an effort to minimize this uncertainty, the investigators laid out a series of scenarios outlining different circumstances and presentations of the two surgeries. For example the research presented some of the participants with a reframing of the surgery information, such as:

Possible outcome Surgery 1
(complicated)
Surgery 2 
(uncomplicated)
Cured without complication 80% 80%
Cured, but with one of the following complications: colostomy, chronic diarrhea, intermittent bowl obstruction, or wound infection 4%  
No cure (death) 16% 20%

The investigators believed by grouping all of the complications together that people would be more apt to chose the surgery with the lower mortality rate, because seeing a single group of undesirable outcomes, versus a list, may decrease some of the ambiguity from previous research.

Although none of the manipulations significantly reduced the percentage of participants selecting Surgery 2, the versions that yielded the lowest preference for this surgery all grouped the risk of the four possible complications into a single category, as in the example shown above.

Why these findings are important

Over the past several decades there has been a push to give patients more information so they can make decisions that are consistent with their personal preferences. On the other hand there is a growing psychological literature revealing people's tendency to make choices that are in fact inconsistent with their own preferences; this is a dilemma. Because the present research suggests that the discrepancy between value and surgery choice is extremely resilient, much research still needs to be done in order to understand what underlies the discrepancy, with the goal of eliminating it.

The research reported in this decision of the month is currently in press. Please come back to this page in the near future for a link to the article.

Read the article:

Can avoidance of complications lead to biased healthcare decisions?
Amsterlaw J, Zikmund-Fisher BJ, Fagerlin A, Ubel PA. Judgment and Decision Making 2006;1(1):64-75.

 

 

 

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