How patients make medical decisions

by Diane Swanbrow

Sooner or later, everyone faces decisions about whether or not to have surgery, take a new medication or have a cancer-screening test.

A new University of Michigan study published in Health Expectations explores the costs and benefits say are important in making these kinds of medical decisions, and how those costs and benefits explain what they actually decide to do.

"Many decisions in life can be understood in terms of people's assessments of costs and benefits, and this study finds that this is also true of medical decisions," said Eleanor Singer, a researcher at the U-M Institute for Social Research and lead author of the study.

Singer and colleagues surveyed 3,010 English-speaking adults ages 40 and older who reported having made a within the last two years.

"The importance attached to specific costs and benefits varies greatly from one person to another," Singer said. "For example, in discussing a decision about surgery, one patient may give high importance to being able to function better, but may attach even greater importance to the possibility of serious side effects. For another patient, this calculus may be reversed."

The study also found that while patient assessment of costs and benefits predicts what they decide to do, it does not necessarily indicate that they are well-informed.

"So physicians must take time to discover not only how a particular patient facing a particular decision evaluates its specific benefits and costs, but also whether perceptions of benefits and are accurate," Singer said.

Only then, she says, can truly informed shared decision-making come about.

Related Stories

Patient choice at heart of new online decision aids

date Aug 28, 2013

A health website has launched a range of free online health decision aids, allowing patients to make more informed treatment choices, thanks to the work of a Newcastle University academic.

How patient centered are medical decisions?

date May 27, 2013

A national survey sample of adults who had discussions with their physicians in the preceding two years about common medical tests, medications and procedures often did not reflect a high level of shared decision making, ...

Recommended for you

Sexual assault circumstances differ for military men, women

date May 01, 2015

As the military struggles to combat sexual assault, surveys are uncovering stark differences between the attacks against active-duty female service members and those against active-duty men. The differences are forcing defense ...

The ER docs said 'stop smoking,' and they did

date May 01, 2015

An intervention in the emergency department designed to encourage tobacco cessation in smokers appears to be effective. Two and a half times more patients in the intervention group were tobacco-free three months after receiving ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.