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Health Econ Policy Law. 2010 Jul;5(3):365-87. doi: 10.1017/S174413311000006X.

Choice cuts: parsing policymakers' pursuit of patient empowerment from an individual perspective.

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Division of Health Policy and Administration, Yale School of Public Health, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520-8034, USA.


In this commentary I explore several ways in which the psychology of individual decision-making shapes consumers' choices in medical settings and the potential for choice-based policies to improve the performance of the health care system. This analysis draws some crucial distinctions among the various pathways though which policymakers expect choice to improve outcomes and the various forms of support that might enhance patients' engagement with choice. I also consider how choice-promoting policies interact with other strategies for patient empowerment and depend crucially on the ways in which individual patients develop the capacity to make sense of their experiences with medical care. Drawing largely on data and studies from medical consumerism in the US, I identify a number of choice 'pathologies' that might compromise the influence or beneficial effects of choice-promoting initiatives. Though these limitations are unlikely to turn public officials away from their consumerist policy aspirations, identifying the realistic limitations of such initiatives makes clear the need to complement them with other strategies for enhancing patients' well being and encouraging a more responsive health care system.

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