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Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury (Jun-09)

How should the US judicial system determine compensation for "pain and suffering"  Take a look at a complicated case. 

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury

Let's suppose that you're a member of a jury for a court case involving an industrial accident. A 29-year-old employee, Charlie, has suffered brain damage in this accident.

Charlie was once a skilled worker who operated complex machinery. Since the accident, he has functioned cognitively at the level of a three-year-old child, and there is no chance for improvement of his state. Charlie has no visible scars on his body and is not experiencing physical pain from the accident.
 
Furthermore, as a result of the brain damage, Charlie is emotionally happier than he was before the injury. Several witnesses have testified that Charlie was somewhat volatile before the accident—he got angry easily and had bouts of sadness. The witnesses noted that since the accident Charlie is always happy, despite his cognitive impairment.
 
You are now in the jury room. You and your fellow jury members have decided that the factory where Charlie worked had inadequate safety precautions. The jury will return a verdict for the plaintiff, Charlie. The jury has already agreed on a sum to compensate Charlie for his medical expenses, his ongoing medical care, and lost wages for the rest of his life.
 
Charlie's attorney has asked for an additional monetary award for pain and suffering. Which statement below most closely describes your thoughts, as a juror trying to decide on an award for pain and suffering?
 
  • Charlie should get a very large award for pain and suffering, since his life overall has been so adversely affected by the accident.
  • Charlie should get a moderate award for pain and suffering, since he has suffered cognitive impairment, but he does not have ongoing physical pain.
  • Charlie should get a very small award for pain and suffering, since he is actually happier now than he was before the accident.
  • I don't think that the US judicial system should allow awards for pain and suffering at all.
  • I'm not sure what pain and suffering means in a legal sense, and I don't know what to award to Charlie.

How do your answers compare?

In a recent article, CBDSM's Peter A. Ubel and Carnegie Mellon University's George Loewenstein challenge the conventional view that awards for pain and suffering should be made literally as compensation for feelings of pain and of suffering. Ubel and Loewenstein argue from their expertise in the psychology of judgment, decision making, adaptation, and valuation of health states.

They cite many studies showing that people adapt well to very serious disabilities, such as paraplegia and blindness, returning fairly quickly to near-normal levels of happiness after a period of adjustment. Thus, if juries make pain-and-suffering awards literally on the basis of misery, such awards would be unacceptably small.

But Ubel and Loewenstein delve further. Even though people with serious disabilities have normal levels of happiness, they would still prefer not to have the disabilities. "We believe that the reason for this discrepancy between hedonic measures and stated preferences . . . is that people care about many things that are not purely hedonic, such as meaning, capabilities, and range of feeling and experience."

In enlarging the definition of pain and suffering, Ubel and Loewenstein do not propose to merely add to the factors that a jury must take into consideration in the current judicial system. Indeed, the authors find several problems with the current system, including inequities in compensation and the evaluation of injuries in isolation. They include in their article a three-part proposal for a radical change in judicial procedure.

First, they would recruit a random panel of citizens to compile and categorize injuries. Groups of injuries would be ranked on the basis of the appropriate level of compensation for those injuries. This panel would call on experts to inform their decisions. "Decisions about an injury's proper category would take into account not only the emotional consequences of the injury but also the person's ability to function across important life domains—social functioning, work functioning, sexual functioning, sleep, and the like."

This list of grouped and ranked injuries would have some similarities to the list of health conditions that the State of Oregon created in the 1990s to help allocate Medicaid funds. Another existing model for this list would be lists used to make decisions about workers' compensation claims—for example, benefits for loss of a thumb are twice as great as benefits for loss of a second finger.

Second, Ubel and Loewenstein propose a mechanism for determining monetary damages. Using the list produced by the citizen group described above, federal or state legislators could determine a maximum award for pain and suffering. Based on this damage cap, a range of awards would be set for each category of injuries.

Third, the juries would enter in, using the guidelines set up in the steps described above and then tailoring awards to the individual circumstances of each case. Under this plan, juries would do what people tend to do best: compare and rank things. Ubel and Loewenstein note that "juries could help determine if the victim has extenuating circumstances that should drive the award to either the lower or upper end of acceptable compensation for that group of injuries. . . Our proposal does not do away with jury trials but instead enables juries to involve themselves in the kind of judgments they are best suited to make."

Ubel and Loewenstein conclude, "The determination of pain-and-suffering awards should be revised to take account of recent advances in understanding human judgment and decision making."

Read the article:

Ubel PA, Loewenstein G.Pain & suffering awards: It shouldn't be (just) about pain & suffering. Journal of Legal Studies 2008;37(2):S195-216.

CBSSM Colloquium 2016-- call for abstracts

2016 CBSSM Research Colloquium – University of Michigan

 

Call for Abstracts

 

The Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine (CBSSM) Research Colloquium will be held Wednesday, April 27, 2016 at the Founders Room, Alumni Center, 200 Fletcher Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48109.

The CBSSM Research Colloquium will feature the Bishop Lecture in Bioethics as the keynote address.  This year CBSSM is delighted to announce that William Dale, MD, PhD will present the Bishop Lecture with a talk entitled: "Why Do We So Often Overtreat, Undertreat, and Mistreat Older Adults with Cancer?"

William Dale, MD, PhD is Associate Professor of Medicine and Chief, Section of Geriatrics & Palliative Medicine & Director, SOCARE Clinic at the University of Chicago. A geriatrician with a doctorate in health policy and extensive experience in oncology, Dr. Dale has devoted his career to the care of older adults with cancer -- particularly prostate cancer. Dr. Dale has a special interest in the identification and treatment of vulnerable older patients who have complex medical conditions, including cancer. He is actively researching the interactions of cancer therapies with changes associated with aging.
 

 

Abstract submissions are welcome from all disciplines both within UM, as well as other institutions. CBSSM is an interdisciplinary center focusing on bioethics and social sciences in medicine. Our research program areas of interest include:

  • Clinical and Research Ethics - committed to empirical research in ethics (what some have called empirical ethics) by providing an evidence base for informed policy and practice.
  • Health Communication and Decision Making – using techniques from basic and applied research, determines the best practices for communicating health information to patients.
  • Medicine and Society - examines the way health care and bioethics are influenced by social structures and cultural ideas.
  • Health, Justice, and Community - aims to improve knowledge, understanding and practice in resource allocation and distributive justice, ethics of health policy (public and private) and community engagement, with the overarching goal of improving health equity.
  • Genomics, Health, and Society - examines the ethical, social and behavioral implications of advances in genomics.

For more information about our program areas: http://cbssm.med.umich.edu/


Submission Details: (Form is below)

  • Abstracts should contain a title, followed by the names and designations of all contributing authors and the contact details of the corresponding author.
  • Abstracts are to be a maximum of 300 words in length (exclusive of title and author information).
  • Presentations should last no more than 20 minutes, with an additional 5 minutes for questions.  The total time allotted is therefore 25 minutes per presentation. 
  • Abstracts should be submitted on the attached Abstract Submission form.  Submit abstracts via email to Kerry Ryan, kryanz@med.umich.edu. If you have questions about the abstract, please contact CBSSM at 734-615-8377 or email Kerry Ryan.
  • Deadline for abstract submission is Friday, March 11, 2016.
  • Notification:  Applicants will be notified by Friday, March 25, 2016.


Tentative Schedule for the Colloquium:


9:00-10:30 Presentations
10:45-12:00 Bishop Lecture:  William Dale, MD, PhD
12:00-1:15 Lunch
1:15-4:30 Presentations

Click here for Abstract Submission Form.

Funded by Department of Health and Human Services - National Institutes of Health Subcontracts

Funding Years: 2014.

Promoting physical activity and decreasing sedentary behavior are key goals in the fight against cancers; physical activity is associated with lower risk of several cancers [1-10], and lower overall morbidity and mortality [11-26]. Thus, theory-driven initiatives to change these behaviors are essential [1-10, 26-40]. PQ#3 highlights the necessity for new perspectives on the interplay of cognitive and emotional factors in promoting behavior change. Current theories, which focus primarily on predictors derived from self-report measures, do not fully predict behavior change. For example, recent meta-analyses suggest that on average, variables from the Theory of Planned Behavior account for ~27% of the variance in behavior change [41, 42]. This limits our ability to design optimally effective interventions [43], and invites new methods that may explain additional variance. Our team has shown that neural activation in response to health messages in hypothesized neural regions of interest can double the explained variance in behavior change, above and beyond self-reports of attitudes, intentions, and self-efficacy [44, 45]. We now propose a next leap, inspired by PQ3, to identify how cognitive and affective processes interact in the brain to influence and predict behavior change. Our core hypothesis is that the balance of neural activity in regions associated with self-related processing versus defensive counterarguing is key in producing health behavior change, and that self-affirmation (an innovative approach, relatively new to the health behavior area [46]) can alter this balance. Self-affirmation theory [47] posits that people are motivated to maintain a sense of self-worth, and that threats to self-worth will be met with resistance, often i the form of counterarguing. One common threat to self-worth occurs when people are confronted with self-relevant health messages (e.g. encouraging less sedentary behavior in overweight, sedentary adults). This phenomenon speaks to a classic and problematic paradox: those at highest risk are likely to be most defensive and least open to altering cancer risk behaviors [48]. A substantial, and surprisingly impressive, body of evidence demonstrates that affirmation of core-values (self-affirmation priming) preceding messages can reduce resistance and increase intervention effectiveness [46, 49-53]. Uncovering neural mechanisms of such affirmation effects [46], has transformative potential for intervention design and selection. To test our conceptual assumptions and core hypothesis we will: (1) Identify neural signals associated with processing health messages as self-relevant versus counterarguing; (2) Test whether self-affirmation alters the balance of these signals; (3) Use these neural signals to predict physical activity behavior change, above and beyond what is predicted by self-report measures alone. Our approach is innovative methodologically (using fMRI to understand and predict behavior change), and conceptually (self-affirmation may dramatically increase intervention effectiveness). Benchmarks will include objectively measured decreases in sedentary behavior in affirmed vs. control subjects (using accelerometers), and increases in predictive capacity afforded by neuroimaging methods, compared to self-report alone.

PI(s): Thad Polk

Co-I(s): Lawrence An, Sonya Dal Sin, Kenneth Resnicow, Victor Strecher

CBSSM Seminar: Scott L. Greer, Ph.D.

Wed, September 12, 2018, 3:00pm
Location: 
NCRC, Building 10, Room G065

Scott L. Greer, Ph.D.
Professor, Health Management and Policy, Global Public Health, and Political Science

Physician Autonomy in Neonatology from 1979-2016: The Forces of Law, Ethics, Technology, and Families


Charley Willison, University of Michigan
Michael Rozier, St. Louis University
Scott L. Greer, University of Michigan
Joel Howell, University of Michigan
Renee Anspach, University of Michigan
Ann Greer, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Neonatology as a field has pushed the boundary of which lives can be saved, now making it possible for babies to survive even if they are born ten earlier than than Patrick Kennedy, whose treatment in 1963 marked a surge into public consciousness for the field. Neonatologists are therefore positioned on frontiers of both medical advance and legal, ethical, and social debates.
Like other medical specialists, neonatologists face competing pressures. They must balance what can be done for their patients against what should be done for their patients. Evolving technology constantly changes what can be done, which means providers regularly reconsider what should be done. Because the neonatologist’s patient is always silent about her or his wishes, providers must give heed to the interests voiced by other interested parties. First among these are their patients’ caregivers, usually parents. Neonatologists also face pressure from colleagues both within neonatology and in other specialties. Additionally, hospital administration also shapes provider choices, especially related to matters of finance and public relations. Neonatologists must also navigate social forces, especially in law and ethics, that can be particularly challenging in the United States, where any question related to reproduction can quickly become a social controversy far beyond a single practitioner’s control.
Our study attempts to answer the following question: Over the past several decades, how have neonatologists negotiated these complex pressures when making life-and-death decisions? To put it more personally, in a field where providers must often choose between the lesser of many poor options, how do neonatologists arrive at decisions that they can live with? To answer these questions, we draw upon existing scholarship in the history of neonatology9,10 as well as several waves of interviews with physicians that took place over the course of nearly four decades. Our approach is to explore changes that limit the professional autonomy of neonatologists by comparing the findings of interview data collected since 1979 with the better-known technological, organizational, and legal or ethical developments surrounding neonatologists. Neonatologists created a new area of medicine by rescuing children who had previously died, but thereby exposed themselves to pressures from parents to the law.

 

 

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.

 

Funded by the National Cancer Institute

Funding Years: 2010-2012

Approximately 10-30% of men who undergo external beam radiation for localized prostate cancer see rising PSA scores following treatment. Some of these men need androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) as salvage treatment. ADT is not curative and has significant side effects that impact quality of life (QOL). These facts must be balanced against its clinical need.

The decision to initiate hormonal therapy is driven more by patient anxiety and less by clinical parameters. Thus, men need to better understand how their PSA values and likelihood of recurrence will change over time.

A novel computer model, based on 2,386 patients previously treated, will provide this information. This project aims to develop and test methods of communicating this information to patients and to determine how patients use it in their treatment decisions. 

Aim 1. Develop several graphical methods for presenting the key pieces of numerical information in regard to predicted PSA response and clinical failure.

Aim 2: Pilot test the materials in urology and RT clinics to determine the best method for communicating the information to patients. Based on pilot testing, choose one graphical format for further evaluation.

Aim 3: Using the identified graphical format, test the use of these materials in encounters with patients who are actually making decisions regarding ADT. We assess anxiety, knowledge, risk perceptions, actual behavior in regard to ADT, self-efficacy for making a treatment decision, and satisfaction with the tool.

Daniel Hamstra (PI), Doris R. Brown (Co-I), Angela Fagerlin (Co-I), Shruti Jolly (Co-I), Karin Olson (Co-I), John Wei (Co-I).

 

Brian Zikmund-Fisher,  Angela Fagerlin, Nicole Exe, and Knoll Larkin have been involved in the Visualizing Health Project, which has recently launched an online style guide  for communicating health data. You can check it out at: www.vizhealth.org

The Visualizing Health project was a short and highly intense project funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation designed to push the envelope both in considering visual designs for communicating health risk data and in developing iterative research approaches for testing them. The project involved a large team combining researchers and staff from both the University of Michigan's Center for Health Communications Research and the Center for Bioethics and Social Sciences in Medicine. The UM team then worked closely on a week by week basis with Thomas Goetz (former editor of Wired magazine) who envisioned the project, Tim Leong (graphic designer, author of Super Graphic), Andrea Ducas from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and teams of graphic designers that Tim recruited.

They created 16 distinct visual data display tasks related to health risks, had teams of graphic designers develop display concepts, and iteratively tested these displays using multiple online survey methodologies. The resulting designs and data were then assembled in a project website that included all the images, plus commentary and additional features such as a design "wizard" to help guide users to visual displays that best fit their personal needs.

Also, see the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of health blog.

2012 Bishop Lecture featuring Jerome Groopman, MD and Pamela Hartzband, MD

Thu, May 10, 2012 (All day)

The 2012 Bishop Lecture featured New York Times best selling authors, Jerome Groopman, MD, Dina and Raphael Recanati Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and Pamela Hartzband, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Drs. Groopman and Hartzband jointly presented the Bishop Lecture with a talk entitled, “When Experts Disagree: The Art of Medical Decision Making.” 

Drs. Groopman and Hartzband are co-authors of a 2011 book, “Your Medical Mind,” which outlines how patients can navigate health care choices when making medical decisions.  In addition to conducting research on blood development, cancer, and AIDS, Dr. Groopman writes regularly for the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, and the Washington Post.  A noted endocrinologist and educator, Dr. Hartzband specializes in disorders of the thyroid, adrenal, and pituitary glands, and in women’s health.  She has authored articles on the impact of electronic records, uniform practice guidelines, monetary incentives, and the Internet on the culture of clinical care.  

  • Click here for the video recording of the 2012 Bishop Lecture.

Seated: Jerome Groopman and Pamela Hartzband 

Standing from Left: Scott Kim, Susan Goold, Angela Fagerlin, Christine Bishop, Jane Bishop, and David Bishop

 

 

 

Funded by National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)

Description: Each year, an estimated 10,000 U.S deaths from pneumonia could have been avoided if the ICU had been used. Efforts to prevent those deaths are limited by the 20-fold variation in ICU admission rates across U.S. hospitals. Thus, there is a critical need to identify the patients who will benefit from ICU care and ensure they receive it. The overall hypothesis of this proposal is that there are definable characteristics of patients who could benefit from ICU care but do not receive it, that those characteristics are often not incorporated into existing physician models of decision-making around ICU care, and that even when those models are accurate, there are hospital factors that prevent physicians from providing potentially life-saving ICU care to those patients. The overall goal of this proposal is to characterize the mechanisms driving the underuse of ICU care for select pneumonia patients—mechanisms at the patient-, physician-, and organization-level. To accomplish this, I propose to develop and validate a prediction model to identify patients with pneumonia who should be admitted to the ICU, but often are not; to empirically identify key decision-making models of physicians about ICU admission; and to characterize barriers and facilitators at the organizational-level to improving ICU use.    

PI: Thomas Valley, MD, MSc                                                                                                                                                                             

Get it out of me! (Dec-05)

A 5% chance of death or a 10% chance of death:  which would you choose?

Imagine that you have been diagnosed with a slow growing cancer. Right now, the cancer is not causing you to feel sick. For most people, the cancer will grow so slowly it will never cause them any trouble. For others, the cancer will grow to the point that it makes them sick. Untreated, five percent (5 out of 100) will die of the cancer. Your doctor tells you that you have two treatment options: watchful waiting or surgery. Watchful waiting means you will not do any treatment right away, but your doctor will follow your cancer closely and treat any symptoms that you have if it begins to spread. Although it would be too late to be cured, you would be comfortable and free of pain. There are no side effects to watchful waiting, but five percent (5 out of 100) of the people who choose this treatment will develop symptoms and die from their cancer within five years. On the other hand, the surgery would cure your cancer permanently. Following surgery you will feel more tired than usual and will experience stomach upset occasionally for the three months following your surgery. However, surgery has a ten percent (10 out of 100) risk of death during the surgery.

Imagine that both of these treatments are completely covered by your health insurance. Which would you choose?

  •  I would not take the surgery and accept the 5% chance of dying from this cancer.
  •  I would take the surgery and accept the 10% chance of dying from the surgery.

How do your answers compare?

In the real world, cancer patients sometimes choose treatments that may have devastating side effects over less invasive, yet equally or more effective, approaches. One explanation for this is that people may feel a strong need to "get the cancer out" of their bodies. Surgical removal of all potentially cancerous tissues may satisfy this desire so thoroughly that people end up ignoring important statistical information about adverse outcomes.

Making a choice not in their best interest

CBDSM investigators Angela Fagerlin, Brian Zikmund-Fisher, and Peter Ubel hypothesized that people perceive cancer diagnoses as a call to action, and more specifically, a call to get rid of the cancer through surgery, regardless of what statistical information might say to the contrary. Consequently, they predicted that when presented with hypothetical cancer diagnoses, many people would say they would pursue surgery even if such an action would decrease their chance of survival.

To explore the relative frequency of people's willingness to choose surgery when it wasn't in their best interest, the investigators designed a cancer scenario similar to the one you read on the previous page. Participants were presented either a surgery or a medication treatment that would either increase or decrease their chance of survival.

The investigators found that participants who were presented with the opportunity to rid themselves of their cancer through surgery were significantly more inclined to take action than those who were presented with the medication treatment. For example, when the treatment reduced their overall chance of survival, 65% chose the surgery, whereas only 38% chose the medication treatment. This suggests that people's treatment decisions may be based not on the effectiveness of the treatments, but rather on their beliefs about how cancer should be treated. Specifically, cancer diagnoses seem to conjure up a strong desire for active treatment. And people seem to have an intuitive belief that action should not just involve treatment, but surgical removal of the cancer.

Why these findings are important

The results of this study may resonate with many clinicians who have encountered cancer patients who seem to desire treatment for treatment's sake, or who have a preference for surgical intervention even before they learn about the pros and cons of their treatment alternatives. This study should serve to remind clinicians that patients' preference for action can be strong enough, at times, to be a bias. At a minimum, it is important for health care professionals to be aware of the potential for such biases, so they can decide whether to accept patients' preferences at face value, or try to convince patients that aggressively treating a tumor may not be in their best interests.

Read the article:

Cure me even if it kills me: Preferences for invasive cancer treatment.
Fagerlin A, Zikmund-Fisher BJ, Ubel PA. Medical Decision Making 2005;25(6):614-619.

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