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Differences in belief about likely outcomes account for differences in doctors' treatment preferences: but what accounts for the differences in belief?
  1. T Rakow, researcher
  1. Clinical Risk Unit, Department of Psychology, University College, London WC1E 6BT, UK
  1. Dr T Rakow, Department of Psychology, University of Essex, Colchester, Essex CO4 3 SQ, UK timrakow{at}


Doctors, patients, and their relatives face a complex decision when there are multiple treatment options that differ in their profiles of risk and benefit over time. Doctors from a single specialist paediatric cardiac unit participated in a correlational study that used a novel tool (subjective multi-state survival graphs) to elicit their beliefs about the likely outcome of different treatments. Doctors' preferences were more closely related to their beliefs about long term, rather than short term, outcomes. This is consistent with placing greater value on far future than on immediate life years, highlighting the importance of incorporating patients' values for these outcomes into decisions of this kind. Beliefs about likely outcomes differed with whether or not doctors encountered former paediatric patients who were now adults, illustrating the difficulty of deciding what risk information should be available when the evidence base on outcomes is limited. Some problems of risk communication are identified, and the value of multi-state survival graphs as an aid to communication is discussed.

  • doctor preference
  • risk
  • informed choice
  • decision making
  • patient-caregiver communication
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