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Picking quality health care: New study shows a little context makes a big difference
Date:9/10/2009

percent chose it when given numbers out of context. Similarly, among older adults, 54 percent chose higher-quality plans when the numbers were evaluated; only 35 percent chose them when the numbers were without context.

Participants shown how to evaluate health-care data also leaned less on their momentary moods, which had nothing to do with quality measures.

The four studies involved 303 people age 18 to 64; 207 participants age 65 to 99 (an important group given the choices faced by older adults); 218 people age 18 to 51; and 83 students up to age 37. The studies were led by Ellen Peters, PhD, of Decision Research, a non-profit research group in Eugene, Ore., and the University of Oregon.

Being helped to interpret the numbers made the biggest difference for people who were less good with numbers generally. For them, such guidance helped them rise above the passing moods that they reported.

"Information providers cannot present 'just the facts,'" the authors wrote. If helped to integrate quality-of-care information into their judgments and reduce reliance on cost, people can make better decisions, they asserted.

The same goes for those making public policy and allocating health-care dollars. "Decision-makers need help in interpreting not only what the numbers are but what they mean," wrote the authors.

"Without [such help], today's world of instantaneous information could lead to a greater influence of irrelevant sources of affect [mood] and emotion, especially for the less numerate among us."


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