When I researched about Shared Decision Making for this article this is the definition I found on Wikipedia:
Shared Decision Making (SDM) is an approach where clinicians and patients communicate together using the best available evidence when faced with the task of making decisions, where patients are supported to deliberate about the possible attributes and consequences of options, to arrive at informed preferences in making a determination about the best action and which respects patient autonomy, where this is desired, ethical and legal.
Isn’t this what we’re doing when we go to the doctor? Isn’t this why we go to the doctor? But how often have you left unsure of what the doctor has recommended? I think too often patients accept the medical professional’s diagnosis and recommendations without further discussion. When they do this, they may miss important information that had they known it might have led them to a different treatment path, which in turn could reduce much of the overtreatment patients experience.
In an article by Kathryn Doyle, Decision aids reduce mammograms among older women she describes a study where women “who learned more about the risks and benefits of mammogram screenings were less likely to go through with the test”. This study involved women over the age of 75 and the information provided to them was specific for their age because there are things they need to take into consideration that younger women generally would not. The article also noted that “it may be faster for a physician to simply recommend a mammogram than to discuss patients’ preferences around screening”.
If the medical clinicians don’t have time to give us the information, then what can patients do? We can do our own research and some doctors welcome this kind of initiative but others make it clear that they do not. The Internet can be a maze of information and it’s hard to discern when information is credible but there are tools, also known as decision aids, that can help patients become better informed. These decision aids are available from reliable sources who have done the research for us.
When I visited the Center for Shared Decision Making at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center I was excited that such a resource existed. The service is free, and while the staff can’t give medical advice, they can guide patients to resources that will help them make informed decisions for themselves. Many of their decision aids are available online.
I had a look for shared decision making resources in the Northern Virginia area where I live but couldn’t find anything specific. Below are some resources that I did find and I hope that you’ll be able to use them to find out more about shared decision making and how you can incorporate it into your visits with medical professionals.
- Guide to Long Term Care for Veterans and Caregivers (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs)
If you find other websites on shared decision making that you’d like me to share, please comment below . . .
Patients are people, too!
If you feel that you don’t have the information you need to feel comfortable about medical tests and treatments that are recommended for you, do your research and get the information you need to make an informed decision. You can consult with other medical professionals for a second or even third opinion, and you can look for decision aids from a reputable source like the Center for Shared Decision Making at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center. Hopefully, the health care providers in your area will soon have a similar resource available, too.