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.
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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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
Carl Schneider, JD -- “Can Informed-Consent Laws Work? Evaluating Compelled Disclosure as a Method of Regulation”
Abstract: The law of informed consent is an example of a form of legal regulation called mandated disclosure. In such regulation, one party to a transaction is required to give the other party to the transaction information to use in making decisions about the parties’ relationship. There are hundreds of examples of such legal rules besides medical informed consent. This talk asks how well these rules have worked outside medicine. It concludes that there is little evidence that those rules ever work, explores some of the reasons for this surprising failure, and asks what the failure of mandated disclosure outside medicine tells us about the success of informed-consent laws in medicine.
Paul Lichter, MD
The Medical-Industrial Complex is alive and well and has been that way for decades. The Complex depends on strong cooperation from physicians. Not only do physicians help industry to develop drugs and devices, they then take part in selling them to their fellow physicians. The physician-as-drug-rep is driven by money and by the culture of reciprocity in our society. This talk will review the foundations of the Medical-Industrial Complex and the reasons why it is able to control a great deal of medical practice in our country. Physicians rarely if ever believe they are biased and Industry works hard to enforce that belief. Money provided by Industry to physicians in essence creates a contract, however subtle, whereby physicians will sell drugs and devices for Industry. We will discuss the ethical issues surrounding physician-industry relationships as part of the Medical-Industrial Complex.
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
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
|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?
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
|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.
Jeff Kullgren, MD, MS, MPH
Assistant Professor, Internal Medicine
Consumer Behaviors among Americans in High-Deductible Health Plans
More than 1 in 3 Americans with private health insurance now face high out-of-pocket expenditures for their care because they are enrolled in high-deductible health plans (HDHPs), which have annual deductibles of at least $1,300 for an individual or $2,600 for a family before most services are covered. Though it is well known that HDHPs lead patients to use fewer health services, what is less known is the extent to which Americans who are enrolled in HDHPs are currently using strategies to optimize the value of their out-of-pocket health care spending such as (1) budgeting for necessary care, (2) accessing tools to select providers and facilities based on their prices and quality, (3) engaging clinicians in shared decision making which considers cost of care, and (4) negotiating prices for services. Such strategies could be particularly helpful for people living with chronic conditions, who are even more likely to delay or forego necessary care when enrolled in an HDHP. In this seminar we will examine these issues and review preliminary results from a recent national survey of US adults enrolled in HDHPs that aimed to determine how often these strategies are being utilized and how helpful patients have found them to be, which patients choose to use or not use these strategies and why, and identify opportunities for policymakers, health plans, and employers to better support the growing number of Americans enrolled in HDHPs.
Out with the old drugs and in with the new! How is your doctor prescribing for you?
Imagine that you are a physician and your patient is a 55-year-old white male with high blood pressure. He has no other medical problems, is on no medications, and has completed a 1-year program of diet and exercise to control his condition, but his blood pressure remains elevated at 170/105 (140/90 is the definition of high blood pressure).
As his physician, you have to decide on a medication to prescribe him in order to lower his blood pressure. You have the following options to choose from:
Diuretics: Diuretics are medications that lower blood pressure by getting rid of excess fluid in your body, making it easier for your heart to pump. They were first introduced in the 1950s.
Beta-blockers: Beta-blockers are medications that lower blood pressure by helping the heart to relax and pump more effectively, and by also reducing heart rate. They were first introduced in the 1960s.
ACE inhibitors: Angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors are medications that lower blood pressure by widening blood vessels and increasing blood flow. They were first introduced in 1981.
- A diuretic
- A beta-blocker
- An ACE inhibitor
- A calcium channel blocker
How do you compare to the physicians surveyed?
Of the physicians surveyed, 18% chose the same medication as you did. 38% chose an ACE inhibitor, 29% chose a beta-blocker, and 11% chose a calcium channel blocker. Most physicians chose an ACE inhibitor, a newer type of medication, rather than beta-blockers or diuretics, which are older types of medication.
Why is this important? When asked how they made their decision, the majority of physicians believed that diuretics were less effective and that beta-blockers were less likely to be tolerated by a patient's body than the other medications. However, a number of important studies have shown that beta-blockers and diuretics are as effective at lowering blood pressure as newer medications like ACE inhibitors and calcium channel blockers. Studies have also shown that beta-blockers and diuretics are equally or even better tolerated than the newer types of medications. Yet, the use of beta-blockers and diuretics has declined steadily in the past 15 years in favor of the newer and more expensive types of medications.
Why do physicians believe these things when the studies say otherwise?
The answer to this question is not fully known. One possibility is that physicians may be prescribing newer medications because these are the medications actively promoted by pharmaceutical companies. By providing free samples of the newer medications for physicians to give to patients, these companies may be influencing which medications physicians actually decide to prescribe. To test this possibility, after physicians had decided between diuretics, beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, and calcium channel blockers, they were asked if they ever provide their patients with free medication samples from these companies to treat their high blood pressure. It was found that physicians who used free samples were more likely to believe that ACE inhibitors are more effective. This isn't proof that physicians are influenced by pharmaceutical companies when prescribing medication for high blood pressure, but it does urge us to seriously consider if physicians may need to be re-educated about the effectiveness and tolerability of beta-blockers and diuretics.
For more information see:
A longer life may result from the amount of social support present in your life, but is the longevity due to giving or receiving that support?
Imagine that in your busy schedule each week, you typically at least have Wednesday and Saturday nights free as time to spend however you want. Recently, however, one of your close friends had her car break down and now she is wondering whether you would be willing to drive her to and from a yoga class on Wednesday nights for the next three weeks while the car is in the shop. She told you that the class is only about a 15 minute drive each way. She said that you shouldn't feel pressured, and she just thought she'd ask if you had the time to help her out.
- Yes, I'd take the time to help her out.
- No, I'd keep my Wednesday nights free.
Giving vs. receiving: effects on mortality
A research team of investigators at the U of M Institute for Social Research teamed up with CBDSM investigator, Dylan Smith, to conduct a study investigating whether giving or receiving help affects longevity. The researchers noted that receiving social support is likely to be correlated with other aspects of close relationships, including the extent to which individuals give to one another. Based on this, they hypothesized that some of the benefits of social contact, sometimes attributed to receiving support from others, may instead be due to the act of giving support to others.
Using a sample of 423 married couples from the Detroit area, the investigators conducted face-to-face interviews over an 11-month period. The interviews assessed the amount of instrumental support respondents had given to and received from neighbors, friends, and relatives, as well as the amount of emotional support they had given to and received from their spouse. Instrumental support included things like helping with transportation, errands, and child care, whereas emotional support involved having open discussions with a spouse and feeling emotionally supported. Mortality was monitored over a 5-year period by checking daily obituaries and monthly death record tapes provided by the State of Michigan. To control for the possibility that any beneficial effects of giving support are due to a type of mental or physical robustness that underlies both giving and mortality risk, the investigators also measured a variety of demographic, health, and individual difference variables, including social contact and dependence on the spouse.
The investigators found that those who reported giving support to others had a reduced risk of mortality. This was true for both instrumental supoprt given to neighbors, friends, and relatives, and for emotional support given to a spouse. They also found that the relationship between receiving social support and mortality depended on other factors. Specifically, receiving emotional support appeared to reduce the risk of mortality when dependence on spouse, but not giving emotional support, was controlled. Receiving instrumental support from others actually increased the risk of mortality when giving support, but not dependence on spouse, was controlled.
What can we make of these findings?
It appears from these results that the benefits of social contact are mostly associated with giving rather than receiving. Measures that assess receiving alone may be imprecise, producing different results as a function of dependence and giving support.
Given the correlational nature of this study, it is not possible to determine conclusively that giving support accounts for the social benefit traditionally associated with receiving support. Nevertheless, the results of the present study should be considered a strong argument for the inclusion of measures of giving support in future studies of social support, and perhaps more importantly, researchers should be cautious of assuming that the benefits of social contact reside in receiving support.
It's true that when helping others out, you might have to give up some of your own time, but based on the above findings, it looks like in the long run you may end up ultimately gaining more time.
Read the article:
Providing social support may be more beneficial than receiving it: results from a prospective study of mortality.
Brown S, Nesse RM, Vinokur AD, Smith DM. Psychological Science 2003;14:320-327.
Consider this scenario:
Alfred woke up at 4 am on Sunday morning with pain in his left foot. That place where his new running shoes had rubbed a raw spot earlier in the week was getting worse. By 9 am, the foot was red and swollen, with a large oozing sore, and Alfred decided to go to the Emergency Room at his local hospital.
Late on Sunday afternoon, Alfred returned home from the ER. He crutched his way into the house and collapsed on the sofa. His teenage son quizzed him.
How do your answers compare?
- Emergency care that was given
- Post-ER care needs
- Symptoms that would require a return to the ER