The Effect of Total Cost Information on Consumer Treatment Decisions: An Experimental Survey

Med Decis Making. 2018 Jul;38(5):584-592. doi: 10.1177/0272989X18773718.


Background: Unrestrained use of expensive, high-risk interventions runs counter to the idea of a limited medical commons.

Objective: To examine the effect of displaying the total first-year cost of implanting a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) on a hypothetical treatment decision and whether this effect differs when choosing for oneself versus for another person.

Design: We conducted an online survey in February 2016. The survey described the clinical course of end-stage heart failure and the risks and benefits of an LVAD. Participants were randomized to 1 of 4 scenarios, which varied by patient identity (oneself versus another person) and description of total cost.

Measurements: This study measured acceptance of LVAD implantation. Reasoning and attitudes were secondarily explored.

Results: We received 1211 valid responses. The mean age was 38.3 y (±12.8); 53.5% were female and 84.4% were white. Participants were more likely to accept an LVAD when shown the total cost (66.2% v. 58.0%, P = 0.003) or when choosing for another (68.0 % v. 56.4%, P < 0.001). Open-ended responses indicated that acceptors wanted to extend survival while decliners feared poor quality of life with LVAD therapy. Acceptors and decliners agreed that consumers can help lower the cost of health care, but decliners were more likely to consider cost when making health care decisions ( P < 0.001).

Limitations: Limitations include the use of a hypothetical scenario, the use of paid participants, and differences between the respondents and the typical patient facing an LVAD decision.

Conclusions: In this sample, being shown the total cost increased the likelihood of accepting an expensive, high-risk treatment. The results question how well consumers understand the relationship between expensive treatments and the commons.

Keywords: decision aids; end-of-life care; ethics; health care costs; patient decision making; preferences; quality of life.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Decision Making*
  • Female
  • Health Care Costs*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Heart Failure* / economics
  • Heart Failure* / psychology
  • Heart Failure* / therapy
  • Heart-Assist Devices / economics*
  • Heart-Assist Devices / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Quality of Life
  • Random Allocation
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Survival
  • United States