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Perspectives on using decision-making nudges in physician-patient communications

Public Library of Science One September 19, 2018

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PAIR Center Research Team

Headshot of Joanna Hart

Joanna Hart


Kuldeep Yadav


Patients engaging in shared decision making must weigh the likelihood of positive and negative outcomes and deal with uncertainty and negative emotions in the situations where desirable options might not be available. The use of “nudges,” or communication techniques that influence patients’ choices in a predictable direction, may assist patients in making complex decisions. However, nudging patients may be perceived as inappropriate influence on patients’ choices. We sought to determine whether key stakeholders, physicians, and laypersons without clinical training consider the use of nudges to be ethical and appropriate in medical decision making. Eighty-nine resident-physicians and 336 Mechanical-Turk workers (i.e., non-clinicians) evaluated two hypothetical preference-sensitive situations, in which a patient with advanced cancer chooses between chemotherapy and hospice care. We varied the following: (1) whether or not the patient’s decision was influenced by a mistaken judgment (i.e., decision-making bias) and (2) whether or not the physician used a nudge. Each participant reported the extent to which the communication was ethical, appropriate, and desirable. Both physicians and non-clinicians considered using nudges more positively than not using them, regardless of an initial decision-making bias in patients’ considerations. Decomposing this effect, we found that physicians viewed the nudge that endorsed hospice care more favorably than the nudge that endorsed chemotherapy, while non-clinicians viewed the nudge that endorsed chemotherapy more favorably than the nudge that endorsed hospice care. We discuss implications and propose exploring further physicians’ and patients’ differences in the perception of nudges; the differences may suggest limitations for using nudges in medical decisions.


National Institute on Aging