Ask Ariely: On Patient Problems, Friday Fiascos, and Payment Puzzles

Here’s my Q&A column from the WSJ this week  and if you have any questions for me, you can tweet them to @danariely with the hashtag #askariely, post a comment on my Ask Ariely Facebook page, or email them to AskAriely@wsj.com.

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Hi Dan,

I manage an outpatient department at a large hospital, and half the patients don’t show up for their appointments. This wastes everyone’s time and reduces the quality of care. We already send patients automated phone messages, reminding them of their appointments, telling them of the no-show problem and urging them to call us if they can’t come. Sadly, this hasn’t made much difference in the no-show rate. What else could we do?

—Sincerely, Gad 

To start with, I would reframe the phone messages. By telling patients that skipping appointments is common, you’re implying that it’s an accepted norm. Instead, I would emphasize the norm of personal responsibility. The phone message could remind patients that they have made a promise to show up, that this promise is important and that you expect them to be there.

To strengthen the effect, I would send the message not from “the department” but from someone they care about—their doctor or the nurse they deal with. I would ask them not only to let this hospital staffer know if they plan to skip the appointment but also to send an email if they plan to keep it. This solidifies the promise—and the embarrassment if it’s broken.

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Dan,

Why does everything always go wrong on Friday evening at 5 p.m., just before I am about to leave work for the weekend?

—Matt

Actually, things don’t always go wrong at that time—but that’s how we remember it. We don’t have equally strong memories of all mishaps and are more likely to remember Friday problems, since they can delay or even ruin our weekend. In fact, the same magnitude of event that we usually think of as a mishap might be classified on Friday as a full-fledged disaster.

When phenomena come to mind more easily, we also think they’re more frequent (a finding in psychology known as the availability bias). Take the question, “Which is more common—words that start with r or have r in the third space?” The knee-jerk reaction is to pick the starting position, because it’s easier to come up with those words. Similarly, many people think flying is more dangerous than driving, though there are far more car fatalities, since plane crashes get huge news coverage and in their massive loss of life are very upsetting. So to get back to your original question: It’s not about Friday; it’s about your attention and memory.

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Hey Dan,

I’m still in college with a part-time job, but my boyfriend works full time and earns a handsome salary. When we go out he expects us to split the bills equally. Do you think this is fair?

—Aishwarya

There are lots of versions of fair. My own version would be for each of you to pay in rough proportion to what you earn. But, before you propose this approach, be careful. Whatever version of “fair” you pick should be one you’re happy with—even if you start making much more money than your boyfriend.

See the original article in the Wall Street Journal here.