Neurosurgical decision making: personal and professional preferences

J Neurosurg. 2015 Mar;122(3):678-91. doi: 10.3171/2014.11.JNS14400. Epub 2015 Jan 9.


Object: Physicians are often solicited by patients or colleagues for clinical recommendations they would make for themselves if faced by a clinical situation. The act of making a recommendation can alter the clinical course being taken. The authors sought to understand this dynamic across different neurosurgical scenarios by examining how neurosurgeons value the procedures that they offer.

Methods: The authors conducted an online survey using the Congress of Neurological Surgeons listserv in May 2013. Respondents were randomized to answer either as the surgeon or as the patient. Questions encompassed an array of distinct neurosurgical scenarios. Data on practice parameters and experience levels were also collected.

Results: Of the 534 survey responses, 279 responded as the "neurosurgeon" and 255 as the "patient." For both vestibular schwannoma and arteriovenous malformation management, more respondents chose resection for their patient but radiosurgery for themselves (p = 0.002 and p = 0.001, respectively). Aneurysm coiling was chosen more often than clipping, but those whose practice was ≥ 30% open cerebrovascular neurosurgery were less likely to choose coiling. Overall, neurosurgeons who focus predominantly on tumors were more aggressive in managing the glioma, vestibular schwannoma, arteriovenous malformation, and trauma. Neurosurgeons more than 10 years out of residency were less likely to recommend surgery for management of spinal pain, aneurysm, arteriovenous malformation, and trauma scenarios.

Conclusions: In the majority of cases, altering the role of the surgeon did not change the decision to pursue treatment. In certain clinical scenarios, however, neurosurgeons chose treatment options for themselves that were different from what they would have chosen for (or recommended to) their patients. For the management of vestibular schwannomas, arteriovenous malformations, intracranial aneurysms, and hypertensive hemorrhages, responses favored less invasive interventions when the surgeon was the patient. These findings are likely a result of cognitive biases, previous training, experience, areas of expertise, and personal values.

Keywords: ACoA = anterior communicating artery; AVM = arteriovenous malformation; IVH = intraventricular hemorrhage; PGY = postgraduate year; PT1–5 = 1–5 years posttraining; PT5–10 = 5–10 years posttraining; PT>10 = more than 10 years posttraining; brain tumor; clinical care; cognitive biases; medical decision making; observation; radiosurgery; surgery; survey.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Brain Neoplasms / surgery
  • Data Collection
  • Humans
  • Neurosurgical Procedures / methods*
  • Pain / surgery
  • Patients / psychology
  • Physician's Role
  • Radiosurgery
  • Surgeons / psychology*
  • Wounds and Injuries / surgery