Clear problem and options

Be clear about what the problem or goal is and what the options are.

To make a good decision, you need to understand what the health problem is and to know what options are available are for addressing that problem.


Good decisions depend on correctly identifying problems and considering an appropriate set of options to address the problems. Failure to correctly identify health problems can result in inappropriate health actions and unnecessary suffering. For personal health choices, this means starting with a correct diagnosis (or assessment of the risk of getting a health problem) and then identifying the health actions that are available to treat or prevent it. For public health and health policy decisions (for example, how to prevent an infectious disease spreading in a population) this means describing the problem correctly and identifying the policy options relevant for that problem.

Due to incorrect identification, non-medical problems may sometimes be mistakenly treated as medical problems. Similarly, poorly defined public health or health system problems and failure to identify appropriate options for addressing those problems can result in misguided efforts and wasted resources.

Both underuse and overuse of treatments are common and costly around the world, in part because of failure to correctly diagnose health problems and consider appropriate options.


Studies suggest that from 20% to 70% of people with asthma remain undiagnosed and therefore untreated. At the same time, 30% to 35% of people who have a diagnosis of asthma do not actually have asthma and therefore are treated inappropriately. Examples of overdiagnosed and overtreated conditions include cancers, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, diabetes, allergic reactions, and infections. Estimates of missed, wrong or delayed diagnoses vary, but between 10% and 15% of hospital patients may be affected.

Remember: When deciding what to do, make sure the problem is correctly identified and that appropriate options for addressing it are considered.

Educational resources for this concept
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