On the elicitation of preferences for alternative therapies

N Engl J Med. 1982 May 27;306(21):1259-62. doi: 10.1056/NEJM198205273062103.


We investigated how variations in the way information is presented to patients influence their choices between alternative therapies. Data were presented summarizing the results of surgery and radiation therapy for lung cancer to 238 ambulatory patients with different chronic medical conditions and to 491 graduate students and 424 physicians. We asked the subjects to imagine that they had lung cancer and to choose between the two therapies on the basis of both cumulative probabilities and life-expectancy data. Different groups of respondents received input data that differed only in whether or not the treatments were identified and whether the outcomes were framed in terms of the probability of living or the probability of dying. In all three populations, the attractiveness of surgery, relative to radiation therapy, was substantially greater when the treatments were identified rather than unidentified, when the information consisted of life expectancy rather than cumulative probability, and when the problem was framed in terms of the probability of living rather than in terms of the probability of dying. We suggest that an awareness of these effects among physicians and patients could help reduce bias and improve the quality of medical decision making.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Choice Behavior
  • Decision Making*
  • Humans
  • Life Expectancy
  • Lung Neoplasms / mortality
  • Lung Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Lung Neoplasms / surgery
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care
  • Patient Participation*
  • Probability
  • Therapeutics*