Use of Game Theory to model patient engagement after surgery: a qualitative analysis

J Surg Res. 2018 Jan:221:69-76. doi: 10.1016/j.jss.2017.07.039. Epub 2017 Sep 1.


Background: Patient engagement is challenging to define and operationalize. Qualitative analysis allows us to explore patient perspectives on this topic and establish themes. A game theoretic signaling model also provides a framework through which to further explore engagement.

Methods: Over a 6-mo period, thirty-eight interviews were conducted within 6 wk of discharge in patients undergoing thyroid, parathyroid, or colorectal surgery. Interviews were transcribed, anonymized, and analyzed using the NVivo 11 platform. A signaling model was then developed depicting the doctor-patient interaction surrounding the patient's choice to reach out to their physician with postoperative concerns based upon the patient's perspective of the doctor's availability. This was defined as "engagement". We applied the model to the qualitative data to determine possible causations for a patient's engagement or lack thereof. A private hospital's and a safety net hospital's populations were contrasted.

Results: The private patient population was more likely to engage than their safety-net counterparts. Using our model in conjunction with patient data, we determined possible etiologies for this engagement to be due to the private patient's perceived probability of dealing with an available doctor and apparent signals from the doctor indicating so. For the safety-net population, decreased access to care caused them to be less willing to engage with a doctor perceived as possibly unavailable.

Conclusions: A physician who understands these Game Theory concepts may be able to alter their interactions with their patients, tailoring responses and demeanor to fit the patient's circumstances and possible barriers to engagement.

Keywords: Disparities; Game Theory; Patient engagement; Qualitative analysis; Self-care; Underinsured.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Game Theory*
  • Hospitals, Private
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Patient Participation*
  • Postoperative Care / psychology*
  • Postoperative Period*
  • Safety-net Providers