Are You Overloading Patients with Choices?
Professor Sheena Iyengar, who studies how people make choices, set up a simple two-stage experiment in a supermarket.
First, the researchers put out samples of six flavors of jam and invited shoppers to try them. Forty percent of people passing by decided to try the samples, and 30 percent made a decision to buy one of them.
In the second stage of the experiment, the researchers laid out 24 different flavors and, perhaps attracted by the impressive display of choices, more people—60 percent this time—stopped and sampled.
But here’s the surprising part: Only three percent of the people in the second stage made a purchase. The conclusion the researchers arrived at is that people like to have choices, but when they have too many choices—especially with no guiding context to help them—they become overwhelmed. Not choosing becomes the simplest choice of all.
Naturally, as health service professionals you have an obligation to let patients know their options. But are you running the risk of overwhelming your patients?
I think the lesson that can be learned here is that you should frame those options in the context of a few compelling scenarios, and don’t be afraid to guide them toward what you know to be the better choices. If they think all the choices you present are equal, people will automatically go for the one that requires the least energy and cost. Or if they feel really lost among the choices, they could simply choose not to do anything at all.
I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on this. In an age where dentistry can provide so many options, how do you go about presenting alternatives to patients without creating decision burnout?