Sometimes, everything I read suddenly seems to revolve around a common theme. That happened recently as I came across three items in the news or on my Twitter feed that all converged on the idea of translating data and information for consumers to help them make better decisions.
The first was an article based on the research of Hal Ersner-Hershfield and Neal J. Roese, who tested what payment decisions consumers made when presented with payoff information on their credit card statements. What they found is that a new requirement in the Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility, and Disclosure (CARD) Act that credit card companies present a scenario specifying a 3-year payoff amount actually led consumers to pay off less debt than they might have if they had been told they could pay anything from the minimum amount to the full amount. While the concept behind the CARD Act’s requirement seems sound (i.e., converting interest amounts into a projected payoff amount for a specific timeframe), the reality is that consumers interpreted the 3-year payoff example as a default amount, and many would have potentially paid more than the 3-year payoff amount – and therefore, less over the longer term.
The second is an article in the Atlantic Monthly, summarizing the results of a study that looked at presenting consumers with information about how much exercise would be required to burn off the calories in a soda. For example, you might have to run for 50 minutes or walk 5 miles to work off the calories in a bottle of soda. The study found that presenting information in that way did more than showing just information about calorie content or sugar content to steer consumers away from the sugar-based sodas toward water or diet soda. As with the credit card example, all is not rosy here either, as many would argue that healthy choices are about more than just reducing calories – the composition of those calories matters too. It does appear to be a step in the right direction though.
The third is a well-executed graphic distributed by the American College of Radiology for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s an example of how to translate risk data into information consumers can understand, and I suspect it will go a long way toward allaying the fears of any woman who has an irregular mammogram result.
While it is clear that these examples illustrate some of the pitfalls of translating data for consumers, let’s not miss the point that we can help consumers along a path by translating data and information into something more understandable and actionable. Yes, we need to be careful about our default choices, and it can be hard to get it right on the first try, but anything that helps consumers get a better understanding of what a choice means for them is usually a step in the right direction. In the complicated world of health insurance purchasing, the corollary is to help translate deductibles, copays, and coinsurance into a “what will I pay” estimate? Even if it’s not perfect, it gives consumers a much better way to compare plan options and consider what a plan choice might look like for them.
With the availability of more and more data and information, it will be increasingly important to continue finding ways to help consumers wade through everything more easily and with confidence.