Patients Don't Want to Make Decisions

Patients Don't Want to Make Decisions

By now you would think that since we are living in the world of patient autonomy and patient centered care that all patients want to make decisions when it comes to their care. Unfortunately, research indicates otherwise. Yet, we continue to hear lots about new digital tools, platforms and portals that claim to help patients do what they really don't want to do.

Instead, most patients want ways to make the care experience more convenient, like online appointment scheduling, access to their EMR information or a list of their immunizations.

It should come as no surprise that people don't like making tough decisions. Here are some reasons why:

  1. They are scared and can't think straight
  2. They are unable to do so because they have incomplete or incomprehensible information
  3. They are emotionally and culturally programmed to turn to the doctor for advice
  4. There is a vast power imbalance between patients and doctors
  5. We think about making hard choices the wrong way
  6. Their decisions are tainted, just like everyone else, including their doctor, by bias
  7. They want their doctor to explain options, particularly for preference sensitive conditions, but they expect the doctor to make the ultimate decision
  8. They don't want to assume the consequences and burden of making the decision
  9. It's easier to have someone else make the tough calls
  10. They feel guilty about making decisions for other family members

There may come a day when patients have access to personalized patient decision support systems. My guess is that most will delete the app, not the online APPointment, from their phone once they have it for a week.

Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA is the President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs

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  • Katie Rose

    When making hard decisions, choose the option that leads you to become the healthy person you wish you were, dont fall back on social norms or personal fears.

  • Grace Dennison

    Short and the point, thanks !

  • Patrick Vargas

    Good article

  • Matt Doughty

    There are no difficult choices but sometimes humans don't act courageous enough to make them, and then say they are in a tough dilemma.

  • Kumar Mohit

    Insightful read

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Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA

Former Contributor

Arlen Meyers, MD, MBA is a professor emeritus of otolaryngology, dentistry, and engineering at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the Colorado School of Public Health and President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs at He has created several medical device and digital health companies. His primary research centers around biomedical and health innovation and entrepreneurship and life science technology commercialization. He consults for and speaks to companies, governments, colleges and universities around the world who need his expertise and contacts in the areas of bio entrepreneurship, bioscience, healthcare, healthcare IT, medical tourism -- nationally and internationally, new product development, product design, and financing new ventures. He is a former Harvard-Macy fellow and In 2010, he completed a Fulbright at Kings Business, the commercialization office of technology transfer at Kings College in London. He recently published "Building the Case for Biotechnology." "Optical Detection of Cancer", and " The Life Science Innovation Roadmap". He is also an associate editor of the Journal of Commercial Biotechnology and Technology Transfer and Entrepreneurship and Editor-in-Chief of Medscape. In addition, He is a faculty member at the University of Colorado Denver Graduate School where he teaches Biomedical Entrepreneurship and is an iCorps participant, trainer and industry mentor. He is the Chief Medical Officer at and and Chairman of the Board at GlobalMindED at, a non-profit at risk student success network. He is honored to be named by Modern Healthcare as one of the 50 Most Influential Physician Executives of 2011 and nominated in 2012 and Best Doctors 2013.

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