BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders BMC series 2016 17:304

How outcome prediction could affect patient decision making in knee replacements: a qualitative study

Timothy Barlow, Patricia Scott, Damian Griffin & Alba Realpe


There is approximately a 17 % dissatisfaction rate with knee replacements. Calls for tools that can pre-operatively identify patients at risk of being dissatisfied have been widespread. However, it is not known how to present such information to patients, how it would affect their decision making process, and at what part of the pathway such a tool should be used.


Using focus groups involving 12 participants and in-depth interviews with 10 participants, we examined how individual predictions of outcome could affect patients’ decision making by providing fictitious predictions to patients at different stages of treatment. A thematic analysis was used to analyse the data.


Our results demonstrate several interesting findings. Firstly, patients who have received information from friends and family are unwilling to adjust their expectation of outcome down (i.e. to a worse outcome), but highly willing to adjust it up (to a better outcome). This is an example of the optimism bias, and suggests that the effect on expectation of a poor outcome prediction would be blunted. Secondly, patients generally wanted a “bottom line” outcome, rather than lots of detail. Thirdly, patients who were earlier in their treatment for osteoarthritis were more likely to find the information useful, and it was more likely to affect their decision, than patients later in their treatment pathway.


This research suggest that an outcome prediction tool would have most effect targeted towards people at the start of their treatment pathway, with a “bottom line” prediction of outcome. However, any effect on expectation and decision making of a poor outcome prediction is likely to be blunted by the optimism bias. These findings merit replication in a larger sample size.

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