On the suitability of fast and frugal heuristics for designing values clarification methods in patient decision aids: a critical analysis

Health Expect. 2013 Sep;16(3):e73-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1369-7625.2011.00720.x. Epub 2011 Sep 8.


Background: Increasingly, patient decision aids and values clarification methods (VCMs) are being developed to support patients in making preference-sensitive health-care decisions. Many VCMs encourage extensive deliberation about options, without solid theoretical or empirical evidence showing that deliberation is advantageous. Research suggests that simple, fast and frugal heuristic decision strategies sometimes result in better judgments and decisions. Durand et al. have developed two fast and frugal heuristic-based VCMs.

Objective: To critically analyse the suitability of the 'take the best' (TTB) and 'tallying' fast and frugal heuristics in the context of patient decision making.

Strategy: Analysis of the structural similarities between the environments in which the TTB and tallying heuristics have been proven successful and the context of patient decision making and of the potential of these heuristic decision processes to support patient decision making.

Conclusion: The specific nature of patient preference-sensitive decision making does not seem to resemble environments in which the TTB and tallying heuristics have proven successful. Encouraging patients to consider less rather than more relevant information potentially even deteriorates their values clarification process. Values clarification methods promoting the use of more intuitive decision strategies may sometimes be more effective. Nevertheless, we strongly recommend further theoretical thinking about the expected value of such heuristics and of other more intuitive decision strategies in this context, as well as empirical assessments of the mechanisms by which inducing such decision strategies may impact the quality and outcome of values clarification.

Keywords: decision quality; deliberation; intuition; patient preferences; theory-informed design.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making
  • Decision Support Techniques*
  • Humans
  • Patient Education as Topic / methods
  • Patient Preference / psychology
  • Patients / psychology*
  • Time Factors