A typology of patients based on decision-making styles: Cross-sectional survey study

Mary Anne FitzPatrick, Alexandra Claudia Hess, Lynn Sudbury-Riley, Peter Johannes Schulz

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Background: Although previous research shows broad differences in the impact of online health information on patient-practitioner decision making, specific research is required to identify and conceptualize patient decision-making styles related to the use of online health information and to differentiate segments according to the influence of online information on patient decision making and interactions with health professionals. Objective: This study aimed to investigate patients’ decision making in relation to online health information and interactions with health care practitioners. We also aimed to present a typology of patients based on significant differences in their decision making. Methods: We applied a large-scale cross-sectional research design using a survey. Data, generated using a questionnaire that was administered by companies specializing in providing online panels, were collected from random samples of baby boomers in the United Kingdom, the United States, and New Zealand. The total sample comprised 996 baby boomers born between 1946 and 1964, who had used the internet in the previous 6 months to search for and share health-related information. Data were analyzed using hierarchical cluster analysis and confirmatory factor analysis, as well as one-way analysis of variance, chi-square tests, and paired sample t tests. Results: Analyses identified 3 key decision-making styles that served as the base for 4 unique and stable segments of patients with distinctive decision-making styles: the Collaborators (229/996, 23.0%), the Autonomous-Collaborators (385/996, 38.7%), the Assertive-Collaborators (111/996, 11.1%), and the Passives (271/996, 27.2%). Profiles were further developed for these segments according to key differences in the online health information behavior, demographics, and interactional behaviors of patients. The typology demonstrates that collaborative decision making is dominant among patients either in its pure form or in combination with autonomous or assertive decision making. In other words, most patients (725/996, 72.8%) show significant collaboration in their decision making with health care professionals. However, at times, patients in the combination Autonomous-Collaborative segment prefer to exercise individual autonomy in their decision making, and those in the combination Assertive-Collaborative segment prefer to be assertive with health professionals. Finally, this study shows that a substantial number of patients adopt a distinctly passive decision-making style (271/996, 27.2%). Conclusions: The patient typology provides a framework for distinguishing practice-relevant and addressable segments with important implications for health care practitioners, including better-targeted communication programs for patients and more successful outcomes for health care services in the long term.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere15332
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number11
StatePublished - 1 Nov 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Mary Anne FitzPatrick, Alexandra Claudia Hess, Lynn Sudbury-Riley, Peter Johannes Schulz.


  • Baby boomers
  • Internet
  • Online health information
  • Patient decision making
  • Patient education
  • Patient segments
  • Patient typology
  • Patient-practitioner interaction


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