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Thinking forward: Future-oriented thinking among patients with tobacco-associated thoracic diseases and their surrogates

American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine February 1, 2016

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RATIONALE: The goal of shared decision making is to match patient preferences, including evaluation of potential future outcomes, with available management options. Yet, it is unknown how patients with smoking-related thoracic diseases or their surrogates display future-oriented thinking.

OBJECTIVES: To document prevalent themes in patients’ and potential surrogate decision makers’ future-oriented thinking when facing preference-sensitive choices.

METHODS: We conducted 44 scenario-based semistructured interviews among a diverse group of outpatients with smoking-associated thoracic diseases and potential surrogates for whom one of three preference-sensitive decisions would be medically relevant. Using content analysis, we documented prevalent themes to understand how these individuals display future-oriented thinking.

MEASUREMENTS AND MAIN RESULTS: Patients and potential surrogates generally expressed expectations for future outcomes but also acknowledged their limitations in doing so. When thinking about potential outcomes, decision makers relied on past experiences, including those only loosely related; perceived familiarity with treatment options; and spirituality. The content of these expectations included effects on family, emotional predictions, and prognostication. For surrogates, a tension existed between hope-based and fact-based expectations.

CONCLUSIONS: Patients and surrogates may struggle to generate expectations, and these future-oriented thoughts may be based on loosely related past experiences or unrealistic optimism. These tendencies may lead to errors, preventing selection of treatments that promote true preferences. Clinicians should explore how decision makers engage in future-oriented thinking and what their expectations are as a component of the shared decision-making process. Future research should evaluate whether targeted guidance in future-oriented thinking may improve outcomes important to patients.


National Institute on Aging
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute