Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Department of Medicine, Denver Health Medical Center, Denver, CO, USA. Division of Pulmonary Sciences and Critical Care Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, CO, USA. Division of Cardiology, Department of Medicine, Denver, CO, USA.
BACKGROUND Discordance with well-known sepsis resuscitation guidelines is often attributed to rational assessments of patients at the point of care. Conversely, we sought to explore the impact of choice architecture (i.e., the environment, manner, and behavioral psychology within which options are presented and decisions are made) on decisions to prescribe guideline-discordant fluid volumes. DESIGN We conducted an electronic, survey-based study
using a septic shock clinical vignette. Physicians from multiple specialties and training levels at an academic tertiary-care hospital and academic safety-net hospital were randomized to distinct answer sets: control (6 fluid options), time constraint (6 fluid options with a 10-s limit to answer), or choice overload (25 fluid options). The primary outcome was discordance with Surviving Sepsis Campaign fluid resuscitation guidelines. We also measured response times and examined the relationship between each choice architecture intervention group, response time, and guideline discordance. RESULTS A total of 189 of 624 (30.3%) physicians completed the survey. Time spent answering the vignette was reduced in time constraint (9.5 s, interquartile range [IQR] 7.3 s to 10.0 s, P < 0.001) and increased in choice overload (56.8 s, IQR 35.9 s to 86.7 s, P < 0.001) groups compared with control (28.3 s, IQR 20.0 s to 44.6 s). In contrast, the relative risk of guideline discordance was higher in time constraint (2.07, 1.33 to 3.23, P = 0.001) and lower in choice overload (0.75, 0.60, to 0.95, P =0.02) groups. After controlling for time spent reading the vignette, the overall odds of choosing guideline-discordant fluid volumes were reduced for every additional second spent answering the vignette (OR 0.98, 0.97, to 0.99, P < 0.001). CONCLUSIONS Choice architecture may affect fluid resuscitation decisions in sepsis regardless of patient conditions, warranting further investigation in real-world contexts. These effects should be considered when implementing practice guidelines. HIGHLIGHTS Time constrained clinical decision making was associated with increased proportion of guideline-discordant responses and relative risk of failure to prescribe guideline-recommended intravenous fluids using a sepsis clinical vignette.Choice overload increased response times and was associated with decreased proportion of guideline-discordant responses and relative risk of guideline discordance.Physician odds of choosing to prescribe guideline-discordant fluid volumes were reduced with increased deliberation as measured by response times.Clinicians, researchers, policy makers, and administrators should consider the effect of choice architecture on clinical decision making and guideline discordance when implementing guidelines for sepsis and other acute care conditions.