Influence of Information Framing on Patient Decisions to Treat Actinic Keratosis

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Actinic keratosis (AK) is a skin growth induced by UV light exposure that requires long-term management because a small proportion of the disease can progress to squamous cell carcinoma. The influence of how clinicians frame or present information to patients may affect decision making about AK.


To evaluate the differences in patients’ decisions on whether to receive treatment for AK related to information presentation or choice framing.

Design, Setting, and Participants

A prospective survey study was performed from June 1 to July 31, 2016, in participants who were able to read English. Participants were recruited through the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Dermatology Clinic and an online survey site. The survey was conducted through an online portal. A total of 571 individuals were recruited. Regression analysis, correlation coefficient analysis, and test-retest validation were conducted.

Main Outcomes and Measures

The proportions of patients choosing to receive treatment for AK. Analyses were performed to adjust for age, sex, educational level, history of skin cancer, and history of AK.


Of the 571 recruited participants, 539 (94.4%) returned completed surveys. The mean (SD) age of respondents was 42.9 (17.8) years; 306 (56.8%) were women. The decision to receive treatment for AK varied from 57.7% (n = 311) to 92.2% (n = 497) for the 5 scenarios presented in the questions (P < .001). The question that presented AK as a “precancer” had the highest proportion of participants who preferred treatment (497 [92.2%]). Two questions that presented the risk of AK as not progressing to cancer had the lowest proportion of individuals who chose treatment (311 [57.7%] and 328 [60.9%]). Participants from the clinic and from the online portal were significantly different in age (mean [SD] age, 56.1 [17.6] vs 33.3 [10.0] years), sex (145 [63.6%] vs 161 [51.8%] were females), educational level (40 [17.5%] vs 80 [25.7%] had completed some graduate school), history of AK (46 [20.2%] vs 19 [6.1%] answered yes), and history of skin cancer (76 [33.3%] vs 15 [4.8%] answered yes) (all P ≤ .001). Based on a regression analysis, age, sex, and previous diagnosis of skin cancer were not significantly associated with the participants’ responses.

Conclusions and Relevance

This study found that patients’ decisions on whether to receive treatment for AK is significantly affected by physician wording, especially with alterations in the presentation of risk of malignant transformation.

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