Everyone’s medical situation is unique, these recommendations accordingly are intended to help apply general principles of behavioral economics so the process of decision-making improves.
Getting recommendations from others
In summary medical decisions often rely on advice from others particularly physicians and other healthcare workers. Getting recommendations from others can often improve our decisions, because those recommendations are in is influenced by emotional reactions to rare events and by other biasing factors. We should be aware that our advisors are bias free.
Like us they want to avoid regret and that can push them toward safe default choices that can be easily defended, rather than a risky choice that might be best for us. Now I want to end with a few recommendations for how to make better medical decisions. Even more than financial decisions medical decisions are intensely personal and there’s no simple rule you have that can guarantee good decisions.
Make decisions about yourself but with others
Everyone’s medical situation is unique, these recommendations accordingly are intended to help apply general principles of behavioral economics so the process of decision-making improves. My primary recommendation is that you should make decisions about yourself but with others. What I mean by about yourself is that decisions will be better overall.
If you consider your potential benefits, your cost and your risks independently from other’s outcomes think in absolute terms not relative terms, don’t compare yourself to others. This is particularly important for decisions about prevention. You might be a pretty good shape for your age, you exercise a couple times a week, don’t smoke and usually eat healthful foods.
Improving your expected quality of life
If so your risk of cardiovascular disease is probably less than your peers. Does that mean you shouldn’t take preventative medications or adopt lifestyle changes to cut your risk further? No! You should evaluate your own risk. You might only have a 40% chance of cardiovascular disease compared to more than 50% of the general population, but that’s still a 40% chance.
You may still be able to take steps that reduce your own chance dramatically improving your expected quality of life. Absolute probabilities are often most easily processed by thinking in terms of frequency. Remember that most people do better when thinking about frequencies, especially in that middle range for events might occur or they might not.
We tend to overvalue changes in very high or very low probabilities
Sixty out of every hundred people like you will develop this disease in the next 10 years
thinking in terms of frequency helps make probabilities more concrete especially when dealing with changes in probability. For rare disease of vaccine or behavior modification might reduce your chances from 1/102 0/100. That means for every 100 people who try to prevent the disease one will be helped.
But, for a common problem like heart disease preventative steps might reduce your chances from 60 out of 100 to 30 out of 100. That means, for every 100 people try to prevent the disease 30 will be helped. We rightly focus on cures and vaccines because of their power for eliminating disease, but remember that we tend to overvalue changes in very high or very low probabilities.
Steps that reduce the risk of common conditions
Steps that reduce the risk of common conditions can be much more important even if they can’t eliminate all risk. You should also recognize that you’re not a perfect decision-maker. None of us is. When you’re facing a complex medical decision you’re not even at your best. You might be feeling extreme emotions, you might be stressed and you might have ongoing depression or racing thoughts.
Some disorders even affect the very systems in your brain that support decision-making. So advice from others can be critical for making good decisions. The key is to use that advice in the right way. Avoid relying on anecdotes and stories about what’s worked in the past.
Stories are vivid and easy to remember
Stories are vivid and easy to remember I think it also biases. Seek out evidence and get others opinions on how to use that evidence so that you aren’t facing a complex dilute decision alone. Finally be optimistic. Suppose you learn that a surgery has a 10% chance of failure.
That focuses your mind on the negative outcome causing it to influence your decisions, but the same surgery has a 90% chance of success. When people think in terms of success. They’re less likely to avoid risks unnecessarily often making much better decisions and that positive mindset has many other benefits for your health.
Medical decisions can be difficult and scary we naturally think about them as involving risks to our health, but there’s another way to think about them. They are are opportunities for us to preserve our health enter take control of our future.