Why a Decision Tree?

Posted on Dec 31, 2013

Take Control of Your Health in the New Era of Personalized Medicine

As the keynote speaker from the 2013 Healthcare Design Conference, Thomas Goetz, former Executive Editor, Wired Magazine, and author of The Decision Tree and the upcoming book, The Remedy, discussed his viewpoints about the decision-making process. His talk focused how environments, information, and emotion can effect the decisions on one of the important aspects in our lives: human health.

Goetz provided insights about new ideas and new technologies that can mitigate failure and optimize innovation in our hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare infrastructure. Touching on everything from data visualization to workplace workarounds, his points emphasized the opportunity everyone in the healthcare profession has to apply design thinking to their day-to-day routines.

In his book, The Decision Tree: Taking Control of Your Health in the New Era of Personalized Medicine, Goetz conveys the main challenge facing individuals and their healthcare, and the opportunity that a decision-tree approach offers. We know that when we provide engagement the outcomes improve. Goetz makes clear that we indeed face a health crisis in the U.S. He shows his conviction for making people aware of the problem and the potential for them to work towards the solution. His decision tree helps individuals by providing a tool for change.



Only three percent of Americans follow four basic health behaviors:

      • Don’t Smoke
      • Don’t Drink Too Much
      • Maintain a Healthy Weight
      • Get Regular Exercise

In 30 years, there could be 50 million Americans with diabetes.

Seventy percent of Americans will die of a chronic disease like diabetes or heart disease.

55% of Americans will die as a result of a bad decision.

Stats from: http://thedecisiontree.com/blog/2010/02/the-argument-for-better-health-in-3-minutes-53-seconds/

In one study, researchers found that patients who participated in decisions about their care had a better recovery and better emotional health. They also required half as many follow-up tests and doctor visits. In another study, researchers discovered that when patients were given tools to help them make better decisions they understand more and they have better care, overall. The patients also opt for fewer surgeries. Weight Watchers and Nike+ are examples Goetz provides as tools that people use to help them reach their goals because they can make decisions about their actions every day.

The Decision Tree

A basic decision-making tool, like a decision tree, can help people improve their health and change their lives. Goetz suggests that we organize our health options into a decision tree, a method for factoring in inputs, mapping out options, and guiding us along the best possible path.

A decision tree is a way to externalize the choices that we otherwise make without much thought at all. Goetz states, “By engaging with our health consciously and explicitly as a series of decisions, one leading to another, we can become ‘smarter’ and enjoy better health.”

The Four Components of a Decision Tree

#1 – Input

Data that might affect our health

#2 – Process

An action we can take to change our outcome

#3 – Decision

A question that nudges us to make deliberate choices

#4 – End Result

The consequence of the decision process


Goetz writes on the confluence of medicine, health and technology. His cover stories at WIRED covered the early detection of cancer, the advent of personal genomics, and the controversial diagnosis of metabolic syndrome. His work has been selected for both the Best American Science Writing and the Best Technology Writing anthologies. He has contributed to BBC Radio, CNN, CNBC, ABC, and other television outlets. Currently, Goetz is the co-founder at Iodine, is the entrepreneur-in-residence at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and is a contributor to TheAtlantic.com. His TED.com talk on redesigning medical data has been viewed over 300,000 times.

Your Decision Tree

Conduct your own decision tree to see how you can make changes in your life through this decision-making activity. Then, commit to making those changes and improving your life. Share your results or comments below.


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