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The Importance of First Impressions (Jun-05)

How do your risk estimate and your actual level of risk impact your anxiety? Please answer the following question to the best of your ability:

What is the chance that the average woman will develop breast cancer in her lifetime?

The average lifetime chance of developing breast cancer is actually 13%.

How does this risk of breast cancer (13% or 13 out of 100 women) strike you?
As an extremely low risk 1       2       3       4       5        6        7        8       9       10 As an extremely high risk

How do your answers compare?

Making a risk estimate can change the feel of the actual risk

CBDSM investigators Angela Fagerlin, Brian Zikmund-Fisher, and Peter Ubel designed a study to test whether people react differently to risk information after they have been asked to estimate the risks. In this study, half the sample first estimated the average woman's risk of breast cancer (just as you did previously), while the other half made no such estimate. All subjects were then shown the actual risk information and indicated how the risk made them feel and gave their impression of the size of the risk. The graph below shows what they found:


As shown in the graph above, subjects who first made an estimated risk reported significantly more relief than those in the no estimate group. In contrast, subjects in the no estimate group showed significantly greater anxiety. Also, women in the estimate group tended to view the risk as low, whereas those in the no estimate group tended to view the risk as high.

So what's responsible for these findings? On average, those in the estimate group guessed that 46% of women will develop breast cancer at some point in their lives, which is a fairly large overestimate of the actual risk. It appears, then, that this overestimate makes the 13% figure feel relatively low, leading to a sense of relief when subjects find the risk isn't as bad as they had previously thought.

Why this finding is important

Clinical practice implications - The current research suggests that clinicians need to be very deliberate but very cautious in how they communicate risk information to their patients. These results argue that a physician should consider whether a person is likely to over-estimate their risk and whether they have an unreasonably high fear of cancer before having them make a risk estimation. For the average patient who would overestimate their risk, making a risk estimation may be harmful, leading them to be too relieved by the actual risk figure to take appropriate actions. On the other hand, if a patient has an unreasonably high fear of cancer, having them make such an estimate may actually be instrumental in decreasing their anxiety. Physicians may want to subtly inquire whether their patient is worried about her cancer risk or if she has any family history of cancer to address the latter type of patient.

Research implications - Many studies in cancer risk communication literature have asked participants at baseline about their perceived risk of developing specific cancers. Researchers then implement an intervention to "correct" baseline risk estimates. The current results suggest that measuring risk perceptions pre-intervention will influence people's subsequent reactions, making it difficult to discern whether it was the intervention that changed their attitudes or the pre-intervention risk estimate. Researchers testing out such interventions need to proceed with caution, and may need to add research arms of people who do not receive such pre-tests.

For more details: Fagerlin A, Zikmund-Fisher BJ, Ubel PA. How making a risk estimate can change the feel of that risk: shifting attitudes toward breast cancer risk in a general public survey. Patient Educ Couns. 2005 Jun;57(3):294-9.



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.

Brian Zikmund-Fisher, PhD, is the featured guest editor for a special supplement to Medical Decision Making's September/October 2010 issue, highlighting the DECISIONS study, a nationwide survey of adults in the US regarding common medical decisions.  Lead author on the main paper of the supplement, Zikmund-Fisher and co-authors (including CBSSM faculty Angela Fagerlin, PhD and Mick Couper, PhD) describe the DECISIONS study, a telephone interview of a nationally representative sample of 3010 adults age 40 and over faced with making a medical decision in the past two years.  Researchers defined medical decisions as the patient having initiated medications, been screened, or had surgery within the past 2 years or having discussed these actions with a health care provider during the same interval.  Key findings from the study:

Although patients frequently receive information about the benefits of a procedure or medication, they don't always learn about the disadvantages.

Healthcare providers don't always ask patients what they want to do.

Most patients don't use the Internet to help them make common medical decisions; healthcare professionals remain the most important source of information.

Patients often don't know as much as they think they do.  Many patients feel well informed even when they don't know key facts that would help them make a better decision.

African-Americans and Hispanics were less knowledgeable than other patients about medications to treat high cholesterol.  In addition, they were more likely to say their doctor made decisions about cholesterol medications for them.

Most patients think they are more likely to get cancer than they really are, and tend to view cancer screenings as more accurate than they are.

Men and women think about cancer risks differently.  Women are more active participants in cancer screening decisions regardless of their perception of risk, whereas men tended to get involved only if they felt at higher risk.

Funded by Society of Family Planning.

Funding Years: 2013-2015.

Reproductive autonomy (RA) means having control over one’s own fertility desires. Identification in a religious community may affect women’s decision-making abilities surrounding family planning. Upadhyay et al. developed a scale consisting of three domains that measure RA as it applies to a woman and her partner: freedom from coercion, communication and decision making. However, little is known about how religious norms influence RA. We aimed to expand the current RA scale to capture religious influences and assess the relationship between RA and unprotected sex among religious women.


The novelty of risk and vaccination intentions (May-12)

It's 2009.  Early in the year, a 9-year-old girl from California became the first person with a confirmed case of H1N1 ("swine") influenza in the United States.  Shortly thereafter, the U.S. declared a public health emergency and the World Health Organization declared a phase 6 pandemic (the highest level possible).  By September 2009 a vaccination was developed and was available within a month.

You've been following the news about the H1N1 influenza as developments have unfolded throughout the year, and you feel some concern.  You have been wondering about the risk of coming down with the H1N1 flu yourself and have been thinking about whether you should be vaccinated. 

Medical Students

Systematizing the Teaching of Medical Ethics in the Undergraduate Medical Years

Medical students at the University of Michigan encounter ethical issues throughout their four years of training.  Some are obvious – decisions at the end of life, the allocation of scarce of medical resources, challenges to patient autonomy – others are less obvious – relationships between medical residents and medical students, problems with the “hidden curriculum,” and systemic discrimination in the provision of care.  Our goal is to make students aware of the variety of ethical problems in medical care and to equip them to respond to these problems in a wise and responsible manner.

To that end, our curriculum efforts focus on extending the existing curriculum and on making the medical ethics curriculum for undergraduate medical students at UM more systematic and explicit. Because we want students to become well-versed in thinking through ethical dilemmas before they encounter them in their clinical work we weave ethics into the curriculum throughout the 4 years of their undergraduate training. We use the expertise of our CBSSM faculty to create novel curricular components that incorporate our empirical work in bioethics with our particular expertise in decision science.

Increasing Opportunities for Ethics Teaching in the Clerkship Years

Discussions During Required Clinical Rotations

We facilitate regular ethics discussions for medical students at the end of their required clinical rotations in Obstetrics and Gynecology (in the third year) and Emergency Medicine (in the fourth year). To facilitate these discussions, students prepare short essays on ethical dilemmas encountered in these clerkships.  Students are given a summary of all the issues that came up that rotation, which is used as a starting point for a discussion facilitated by a clinical faculty member trained in ethics. In addition, the Internal Medicine subinternship (an option for fourth year students) includes an ethics discussion at the end of the rotation.

These discussions allow medical students to bring up concerns with ethical dilemmas in a safe environment, teach the students about approaches to ethics, and embed training in ethical decision-making in clinical practice. This is often the first time students learn about the role of the hospital ethics committee and how they can contact them if desired.

     “That was unexpectedly awesome!"  

-- Medical student after Ob/Gyn ethics discussion


Advanced Medical Therapeutics Ethics Module

All fourth year medical students are required to take an online Advanced Medical Therapeutics course. As part of the course, we created an ethics module that includes multiple cases that present ethical dilemmas.  Each case includes pre-recorded videos of faculty discussing the ethical aspects of the case and interactive components requiring students to choose possible solutions to the problem, after which they receive explanations of the pros and cons of their choice.

Medical Ethics Path of Excellence

CBSSM faculty work closely with the medical school to strengthen the medical ethics curriculum for Michigan medical students.  Our goal is to make students aware of the broad range of  ethical challenges facing 21st century medicine – challenges in clinical care, medical research and the design of health care delivery. Most recently, a team of CBSSM faculty developed the Medical Ethics Pathway of Excellence, an opportunity for students to receive mentored training in ethics throughout their four years of medical school.

Overview of Medical Ethics Pathway to Excellence:

  • Introduced in September 2013, the first 10 students were accepted in 2014. Twelve students joined in 2015.
  • Students apply to the Ethics Path of Excellence at the end of February during their M1 year, and continue their studies through their M4 year. Students in the POE learn to:
    • Identify ethical issues in the organization and delivery of health care
    • Implement tools and strategies to address ethical issues
    • Continue their professional education and development of the skills required for leadership
  • Highlights:
    • Before applying to the Ethics Path of Excellence, students have the opportunity to attend fourteen interactive lunchtime lectures that review various aspects of ethics in a healthcare setting. Applicants must attend a minimum of five of these lectures.
    • Students who want to serve on ethics committees and/or include ethics as part of an academic career are provided with specialized training.
    • All students participate in an individualized, independent study, culminating in a capstone project in the M4 year. Often this work includes field work at CBSSM.

Beginning in 2015, the Path of Excellence has been responsible for administering the core ethics curriculum for all of the M1 students. The Ethics Path of Excellence will continue to be a co-curricular activity until 2017 when all students will be required to choose one of the paths offered in the medical school.

“We really want to educate people to be the ethics committee consultants of the future. I think it's pretty unique to have the option of pursuing this extracurricular program because essentially it teaches you leadership skills and how to be a self-directed learner. These are skills you'll really need when you become faculty. Students can take their interest in ethics and pursue it further.”             
Lauren Smith, M.D., Associate Professor of Pathology

Lauren Smith is the Director of the Path of Excellence. Andrew Barnosky, Christian Vercler, Ed Goldman, Kathryn Moseley, Janice Firn, Sacha Montas, and Raymond De Vries are core faculty members.

Start Seeing Ethics Lunch Discussions

As part of the Medical Ethics Path of Excellence, we offer lunch time discussions of cutting-edge topics in ethics. The content of these discussions includes topics such as conscientious objection, mandatory vs. optional vaccinations, patient centered care and shared decision making.  We have also used these discussions to hold mock ethics committee meetings with discussion of a specific case. Facilitators provide a relaxed atmosphere in which students can feel comfortable asking questions and voicing opinions.


"It is exciting to see medical students engage with the ethical issues that arise in the clinic and the classroom.  With encouragement from us they are beginning to see that there is more to medical ethics than just the well-known issues at the beginning and end of life.  While these ethical issues are important, there are also moral consequences associated with the mundane aspects of being a student and working with patients." Raymond De Vries, PhD, Director, Ethics Education Initiative


Funded by Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI)

Funding Years: 2014 - 2016.

Obesity is increasingly considered among the most important public health problems of our times. Bariatric surgery is arguably the only treatment that has proven effective in producing long-term weight loss for patients with morbid obesity. Bariatric surgery also results in resolution of obesity related comorbid conditions, improvements in quality of life, and increased survival.

There are currently four different bariatric surgical procedures in use: adjustable gastric banding, gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomy, and duodenal switch. Bariatric surgery is considered a highly preference sensitive medical issue. Existing decision aids in bariatric surgery are limited in that they provide information about the average comparative risks and benefits of the treatment options, but do not provide customized estimates of the risks and benefits of the different procedures for individual patients. As a result of these draw-backs, decision aids are not frequently used in making treatment decisions in bariatric surgery.

Our proposal is highly innovative in that our decision support tool integrates data from a large clinical registry with individual patient data to provide patients with real-time, customized, accurate information regarding the risks and benefits of the treatment options to better inform decision making. This tool will be continuously updated to ensure that the data on risks and benefits that it provides are accurate and current. Our tool also provides information about other attributes of the treatment options that bariatric surgery patients and other relevant stakeholders feel are important for patients to consider in deciding whether and what type of bariatric surgery to have.

The proposed research promotes shared medical decision making for patients who are considering bariatric surgery for the treatment of morbid obesity. If our intervention proves effective, it will result in improved decision quality and outcomes of care for patients. It may also result in improved efficiency of care to the extent that it serves to augment or guide communication between the patient and physician to promote shared medical decision-making.

PI(s): Nancy Birkmeyer

Co-I(s): Lawrence An, Mousumi Banerjee, Angela Fagerlin, Sarah Hawley, Edward Norton, Lisa Prosser,

Funded by Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI).

Funding Years: 2013-2016.

The birth of a child with a disorder of sex development (DSD) is stressful for parents and members of the healthcare team. The "right" decisions about gender assignment (is it a boy? a girl?) and the best course of action (e.g., should there be surgery? what kind? when?) are not obvious. While there have been large advances in diagnostic assessments like genetic and endocrine testing, the tests do not always show what caused the DSD. And, even when the tests do reveal an explanation for the DSD, knowing what happened genetically or hormonally does not usually lead to a single "correct" treatment plan. Instead, it is likely that there are different acceptable treatment options - and parents will need to make decisions based, in part, on their personal preferences, values, and cultural background. Adding more stress to the situation is knowledge that many of the decisions that need to be made by parents early in a child's life are irreversible and exert life-long consequences for the child and the family.

To support parents becoming actively involved in making such decisions, and to reduce the likelihood of future worry and regret about decisions that have been made, the investigators will create a decision support tool (DST). The DST will help educate families about typical and atypical sex development of the body, the process by which DSD are diagnosed (especially how to interpret genetic test results), and possible relationships between diagnostic/genetic testing, decisions about care, and known consequences of those decisions on their child and entire family. The DST will be used by parents of young children together with their child's health care provider.

The investigators will bring together a network of researchers, health care providers, representatives of patient support and advocacy organizations, and parents of children with DSD to share their experiences. Participants of this network will be involved at each stage of creating the DST, revising it, and putting it into practice. At the end of this project, the investigators will have a fully formed and tested DST that will be available for parents to use with their child's health care team as they are first learning their child may have a DSD.

PI(s): David Sandberg

Co-I(s): Edward Goldman, Catherine Keegan, Beth Tarini, Beverly Yashar


Wed, June 11, 2014

Carl Schneider, JD was quoted in a recent LA Times article titled "Scale of medical decisions shifts to offer varied balances of power" He discussed the role of doctors and patients in the process of medical decision making, "People want to know what's going on, but that doesn't necessarily mean they want to make the decision."

Research Topics: