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.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Patient choice at heart of new online decision aids

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?

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

Suddenly health insurance is not for sale

Apr 18, 2014

(HealthDay)— Darlene Tucker, an independent insurance broker in Scotts Hill, Tenn., says health insurers in her area aren't selling policies year-round anymore.

Study: Half of jailed NYC youths have brain injury (Update)

Apr 18, 2014

About half of all 16- to 18-year-olds coming into New York City's jails say they had a traumatic brain injury before being incarcerated, most caused by assaults, according to a new study that's the latest in a growing body ...

Autonomy and relationships among 'good life' goals

Apr 18, 2014

Young adults with Down syndrome have a strong desire to be self-sufficient by living independently and having a job, according to a study into the meaning of wellbeing among young people affected by the disorder.

User comments