Where is the theory? Evaluating the theoretical frameworks described in decision support technologies

Patient Educ Couns. 2008 Apr;71(1):125-35. doi: 10.1016/j.pec.2007.12.004. Epub 2008 Jan 31.


Objective: To identify and describe the extent to which theory or theoretical frameworks informed the development and evaluation of decision support technologies (DSTs).

Methods: The analysis was based on the decision technologies used in studies included in the Cochrane systematic review of patient decision aids for people facing health screening or treatment decisions. The assumption was made that DSTs evaluated by randomized controlled trials, and therefore included in the updated Cochrane review have been the most rigorously developed.

Results: Of the 50 DSTs evaluated only 17 (34%) were based on a theoretical framework. Amongst these, 11 decision-making theories were described but the extent to which theory informed the development, field-testing and evaluation of these interventions was highly variable between DSTs. The majority of the 17 DSTs that relied on a theory was not explicit about how theory had guided their design and evaluation. Many had superficial descriptions of the theory or theories involved. Furthermore, based on the analysis of those 17 DSTs, none had reported field-testing prior to evaluation.

Conclusion: The use of decision-making theory in DST development is rare and poorly described. The lack of theoretical underpinning to the design and development of DSTs most likely reflects the early development stage of the DST field.

Practice implications: The findings clearly indicate the need to give more attention to how the most important decision-making theories could be better used to guide the design of key decision support components and their modes of action.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Choice Behavior*
  • Decision Making*
  • Decision Support Systems, Clinical*
  • Decision Support Techniques*
  • Humans
  • Patient Education as Topic*
  • Psychological Theory