UMMS Affiliation

UMass Worcester Prevention Research Center; Department of Medicine, Division of Preventive and Behavioral Medicine

Publication Date


Document Type



Behavioral Medicine | Behavior and Behavior Mechanisms | Community Health | Community Health and Preventive Medicine | Health Services Administration


BACKGROUND: Patients facing a high-stakes clinical decision are often confronted with an overwhelming array of options. High-quality decisions about treatment should reflect patients' preferences as well as their clinical characteristics. Preference-assessment instruments typically focus on pre-selected clinical outcomes and attributes chosen by the investigator.

OBJECTIVE: We sought to develop a patient-centered approach to elicit and compare the treatment goals of patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) and healthcare providers (HCPs).

METHODS: We conducted five nominal group technique (NGT) meetings to elicit and prioritize treatment goals from patients and HCPs. Five to nine participants in each group responded silently to one question about their treatment goals. Responses were shared, consolidated, and ranked to develop a prioritized list for each group. The ranked lists were combined. Goals were rated and sorted into categories. Multidimensional scaling and hierarchical cluster analysis were used to derive a visual representation, or cognitive map, of the data and to identify conceptual clusters, reflecting how frequently items were sorted into the same category.

RESULTS: Five NGT groups yielded 34 unique patient-generated treatment goals and 31 unique HCP-generated goals. There were differences between patients and HCPs in the goals generated and how they were clustered. Patients' goals tended to focus on the impact of specific symptoms on their day-to-day lives, whereas providers' goals focused on slowing down the course of disease progression.

CONCLUSIONS: Differences between the treatment goals of patients and HCPs underscore the limitations of using HCP- or investigator-identified goals. This new adaptation of cognitive mapping is a patient-centered approach that can be used to generate and organize the outcomes and attributes for values clarification exercises while minimizing investigator bias and maximizing relevance to patients.


clinical decision making, cognitive mapping, hierarchical cluster analysis, multidimensional scaling, multiple sclerosis, nominal group technique, preference assessment, preference sensitive care, shared decision making, values clarification

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This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License ( which permits non-commercial use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (

DOI of Published Version



Med Decis Making. 2018 Jan;38(1):44-55. doi: 10.1177/0272989X17724434. Epub 2017 Aug 14. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Medical decision making : an international journal of the Society for Medical Decision Making

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Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License