Paper instructs physicians on how to 're-bias' patients to make healthier decisions

Rather than being frustrated by patients who make healthcare decisions based on biases or faulty perceptions, physicians can leverage behavioral psychology to sway patients toward more beneficial choices, argues an essay published in the Annals of Family Medicine.

Take, for example, a 30-year-old woman at normal risk of developing breast cancer who wants a mammogram because she just saw a heart-wrenching movie about a young woman with the disease--an availability heuristic--or impression formed from rare, recent or vivid events, the Wall Street Journal blog explains. Using one of the techniques outlined in the paper, a physician could frame the issue in terms of the absolute risk of developing cancer at that age and emphasize the risks of false-positive results.

Although the authors caution against persuading patients to go against deeply held convictions or religious beliefs, the piece concludes that using "knowledge of decision-making psychology to rebias patients to persuade them to engage in healthy behaviors or make good treatment decisions is ethically justified when the patient's" biases or mental tricks are "distorting their decisions in harmful and potentially correctable ways."

To learn more:
- check out this Wall Street Journal Health Blog post
- read the full article in the Annals of Family Medicine