Decisions in healthcare: the problem isn't science, it's information

In healthcare, decision-making isn't a science problem, it's an information problem, says Wired's Thomas Goetz at TEDMED 2010.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

Getting information to people in a form that not just educates them but helps them make better decisions should be a top priority for the healthcare industry, according to Wired magazine executive editor Thomas Goetz.

Doctors, of course, hate when patients fail to follow their orders. But not a lot of work has been done to understand how to fix that problem, Goetz said in a fascinating presentation at TEDMED 2010.

But one part of medicine has figured this problem out: dentistry.

In his presentation, Goetz explains how dentists get people to brush and floss. ("Maybe not as much as they should," he admits, "but they still do it.")

Describing an experiment that a group of dentists conducted in which they offered messaging with varying levels of fear to groups of their patients, Goetz explained that people were inclined to brush and floss when faced with a dire prediction.

But it wasn't scaring them that did it, he said.

"Fear was not really the primary driver of behavior at all. It's the people who simply felt that they had the capacity to change their behavior," Goetz said. "Fear showed up as not really the driver -- it was a sense of efficacy."

The reason is because it "hit home" -- that is, it stirred their hearts, rather than just their heads.

"Personalized information works," he said. "When you give people specific information about their health, where they stand and where they want to get to, where they might to, that notion of a path -- that tends to work for behavior change."

His prescription:

  • Start with personalized data
  • Connect it to their lives
  • Present a clear point of action
  • This creates feedback

The problem? Personalized data has been hard to come by.

"It's a difficult and expensive commodity," he said. "Until now."

Here's his complete presentation:

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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