The moving target: a qualitative study of elderly patients' decision-making regarding total joint replacement surgery

J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2004 Jul;86(7):1366-74.


Background: Total joint replacement is an accepted, cost-effective, and underutilized treatment for moderate-to-severe hip and knee arthritis. Yet, research has suggested that many patients with arthritis are unwilling to consider total joint replacement surgery. We sought to understand these patients' unwillingness by exploring the nature of their decision-making processes.

Methods: In-depth interviews were conducted with seventeen individuals with moderate-to-severe arthritis who were appropriate candidates for, but unwilling to consider, total joint replacement. The interviews were analyzed with use of qualitative methods and content analysis techniques.

Results: Symptoms and information sources were the two main factors influencing patient decision-making. Participants engaged in individualized processes of trading off perceived costs and benefits. Accommodation to pain and disability and minimization of the quality-of-life benefit, in view of decreasing life span, led to a process whereby the threshold at which the benefits compared with the risks would tilt in favor of total joint replacement was constantly shifting, a phenomenon we called "the moving target."

Conclusions and clinical relevance: The moving-target characterization sheds light on patients' conceptions of their arthritis and on their unwillingness to consider total joint replacement. This process needs to be considered when developing ways to aid decision-making.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Arthritis / complications
  • Arthritis / psychology
  • Arthritis / surgery
  • Arthroplasty, Replacement / psychology*
  • Decision Making*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pain / etiology
  • Pain / surgery
  • Patient Education as Topic
  • Quality of Life