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Power to the People: How Shared Decision Making Empowers Patients AND Enhances Doctor/Patient Relationships

What Is Shared Decision Making and Why Is It Important?

Patients often don’t know, well – what they don’t know. When asked about nine major medical decisions, patients on average knew less than one-half of the important information. Why is this significant? One-third of healthcare decisions have two or more treatment options where there is no ‘right’ course of action except for that of the patient’s.  When someone is faced with more than one appropriate treatment option for their condition, that’s where shared decision making (SDM) comes in. Specifically, SDM helps patients understand their options as well as the benefits and risks of each option, so they can have informed and effective conversations with their providers. SDM encourages doctors and patients to collaborate on healthcare decisions.

Shared Decision Making Strengthens Patient Engagement

More than health information materials or reference guides, decision aids are intended to engage patients in their own healthcare experience and to help them take charge of their journey to wellness. Shared decision making helps patients understand:

  1. The facts about their health conditions. Decision aids give patients up-to-date facts about their health conditions. To facilitate understanding, effective decision aids are developed specifically to improve health literacy, using plain language to make complex medical information accessible to readers.
  2. All the treatment options available, including no treatment. Decision aids present unbiased, evidence-based information on all the treatment options for the given condition. They are designed to guide patients on how to compare treatment outcomes and make informed choices. Treatments and key considerations are presented in a simple format, which helps patients balance the options.
  3. The benefits and risks of each treatment or no treatment option. When patients fully understand the benefits and risks of each option, they are better prepared to have a conversation with their providers on how they feel about the benefits and risks, and bring questions or concerns to provider appointments.

Shared Decision Making Enhances Doctor/Patient Relationships

Through shared decision making, patients come to appointments more prepared to have open, productive discussions with their healthcare team. Decision aids guide patients on how to think about what is most important to them in the context of their healthcare choices. The encounter between patient and provider becomes more meaningful; providers can focus the time on addressing patient concerns and patients can walk away with the information they need to make health decisions that are right for them.

Case Study: Guiding Individuals to Choose What’s Right for Them

A 2015 Group Practice Journal article, titled “Doing Well by Doing Right: Shared Decision-Making Proven Best Practices” recounts the story of how a patient came to her decision on weight loss surgery. At a leading bariatric surgery center, all patients must participate in a shared decision coaching program before making a decision on surgery. Patients often enter the program with a particular decision in mind, but after learning about the surgical procedure and the life-long lifestyle changes required after surgery, it’s not uncommon for patients to change their mind. The patient highlighted in the article had worked to drink more water as a lifestyle change. When she learned that she would not be able to drink water with dinner, she changed her mind about having surgery. She made a decision based on a lifestyle change that was important to her.   

In the article, Dr. Peter Goldbach says that “put simply, helping people live healthier, happier lives, is the right thing to do. SDM helps people get the care that's right for them. When SDM is deployed, patients make healthcare choices that reflect their personal values and lifestyle, and research shows they tend to be happier with the outcome and with their health plan, and overall healthcare costs drop.” Learn more about shared decision making by reading the full story.

Has your organization experienced success with Shared Decision Making?

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