The Influence of Cost Information on Treatment Choice: A Mixed-Methods Study


      To test the null hypothesis that exposure to societal cost information does not affect choice of treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).


      We enrolled 304 participants using the Amazon Mechanical Turk platform to complete a survey in which participants were given the choice between carpal tunnel release (CTR) or a less-expensive option (orthosis wear) in a hypothetical mild CTS scenario. Patients were randomized to receive information about the societal cost of CTR (cost cohort) or no cost information (control). The primary outcome was the probability of choosing CTR measured on a 6-point ordinal scale. We employed qualitative content analysis to evaluate participants’ rationale for their choice. We also explored agreement with various attitudes toward health care costs on an ordinal scale.


      Participants in the cost cohort exhibited a greater probability of choosing surgery than those in the control cohort. The relative risk of choosing surgery after exposure to societal cost information was 1.43 (95% confidence interval, 1.11–1.85). Among participants who had not previously been diagnosed with CTS (n = 232), the relative risk of choosing surgery after exposure to societal cost information was 1.55 (95% confidence interval, 1.17–2.06). Lack of personal monetary responsibility frequently emerged as a theme in those in the cost cohort who chose surgery. The majority (94%) of participants expressed at least some agreement that health care cost is a major problem whereas only 58% indicated that they consider the country’s health care costs when making treatment decisions.


      Participants who received societal cost information were more likely to choose the more expensive treatment option (CTR) for mild CTS.

      Clinical relevance

      Exposure to societal cost information may influence patient decision making in elective hand surgery. A complete understanding of this influence is required prior to implementing processes toward greater cost transparency for diagnostic/treatment options. Sharing out-of-pocket costs with patients may be a beneficial approach because discussing societal cost information alone will likely not improve value of care.

      Key words

      JHS Podcast

      October 1, 2020

      JHS Podcast Episode 55

      Dr. Graham interviews Thompson Zhuang and Lauren Shapiro, two of the authors of "The Influence of Cost Information on Treatment Choice: A Mixed-Methods Study”, the lead article in the October 2020 issue of the Journal of Hand Surgery.

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