Physicians Recommend Different Treatments for Patients Than They Would Choose for Themselves

When faced with hypothetical treatment decisions, physicians made different choices for themselves than for their patients.

Many experts believe that physicians should refrain from recommending specific treatments to patients; however, physicians may be able to overcome patient bias, leading to better choices.

This study conducted two randomized experiments that asked physicians to make treatment decisions for two disease scenarios. Close to 1,000 physicians received a scenario involving either colon cancer or avian flu; there were two possible courses of treatment for each scenario; physicians either made a recommendation for a patient or chose the treatment they would most want for themselves.

Key Findings:

  • When choosing a colon cancer treatment for themselves, 38 percent of physicians chose an option with a higher risk of death, but fewer potential complications; only 25 percent of physicians made this recommendation for patients.
  • Sixty-three percent of physicians said they would forgo immunoglobulin treatment for avian flu, avoiding side effects; 49 percent of physicians made the same recommendation for patients.

This study found that when faced with hypothetical treatment options, physicians chose differently for themselves than for their patients. The “comment” section of this article discusses psychological processes, such as “betrayal aversion,” that may cause bias in decision-making.