Don’t miss the gorilla!

A recent narrative on improving value in health care (NEJM 2013; 368: 959-62) made use of a few psychological experiments to make some excellent points.

The first experiment asked the study participants to focus on a video and to count the number of passes for a team of three basketball players dressed in white while another three-player team dressed in black also played.  “During the video, a woman in a gorilla suit walked across the screen pounding her chest, remaining there for 5 seconds….Consistently, about 50% failed to notice the gorilla.”  Afterwards, when shown the video a second time, many of those who did not see the gorilla insisted that the video had been altered.

The second experiment involved perception.  “One group was initially shown a blurry image of a dog.  Then both groups were shown the exact same image, less blurry.  Those seeing the image for the first time had a much easier time recognizing it as a dog than those who had received previous ambiguous information.”  So, like those in the first experiment who did not  see the gorilla, participants are reluctant to change their opinion even when better information becomes available.

The author notes that the ‘value narrative’ can split patients and physicians into separate teams.  For physicians, value suggests avoiding overuse and providing evidence-based care.  For patients, value means enhancing their experience and catering outcomes that matter to them.  There is a study which shows that patients rate their care as better if they went to an ER for abdominal pain and underwent a CT scan (regardless of whether it was indicated).  Similarly, for back pain, two studies have shown that patients are far more satisfied with their care if they undergo an MRI.

The implications of these experiments on perception is that value in health care needs to be more transparent.

  • “We must admit that turning health care into a customer-service industry may to some extent undermine the delivery of evidence-based care.”
  • We actually know very little “about patients’ values and about how they should or might influence our decision-making.”
  • If we want to control costs and improve quality, “it will first require a look at the whole picture — and then a willingness to believe what we see.”

6 thoughts on “Don’t miss the gorilla!

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