Shared Decision Making: What It Is

Like many people, you may be used to doing what your doctor says without question and without much discussion. After all, medical professionals have had years of training and education. Doesn’t it make sense that “doctor knows best”?

While it’s true that health care providers have specialized training and deeper knowledge of the tests and treatments available for various conditions, patient advocates and health care providers have come to recognize that people receive more effective care when decisions about treatment are made together.

A treatment that makes the most sense for one person may not be right for another person. It turns out, there’s rarely a “one-size-fits-all” solution.

Shared decision making is a patient-centered approach where health care providers and patients work together to make decisions about care. It is a way of re-thinking the traditional, top-down “doctor’s orders” style of health care. With shared decision making, a patient’s values, goals and preferences are discussed and taken into consideration and different alternatives are weighed to determine a course of action that fits these unique needs.

Shared decision making depends on:

  • Clear, accurate, and unbiased medical information about all treatment options — including no intervention — and the risks and benefits of each
  • Health care providers with expertise in communicating this information and tailoring that evidence for individual patients
  • Patients sharing their values, goals, preferences, and concerns – including any burdens faced by certain treatments

Shared decision making is most appropriate when you and your provider need to make big decisions like:

  • Choosing tests, including genetic or cancer screening tests
  • Whether to have surgery
  • Whether to take long-term medication
  • How to manage a chronic illness
  • Whether to enter a clinical trial
  • How to approach palliative care or end-of-life issues