Helping Patients Make Informed Decisions: Shared Decision Making
Healthcare providers want their patients to reach their health goals and be satisfied with the care they receive. As the expert, you want your patients trust you, but people don’t always like to have decisions made for them. For engaged patients with conditions that have some wiggle room for treatments, you can use your knowledge and expertise to help them understand those options, and empower them to make choices they’re confident about. This process is called shared decision making.
What is Shared Decision Making?
Shared decision making is the process of a clinician and a patient working together to review all the options a patient has for treatment and ensuring the patient feels properly educated before they make a choice. The goals of shared decision making are to help patients engage with their care, understand the benefits and risks of their options, and make the best choice for themselves based on their preferences and values.
Shared decision making is best when there are multiple reasonable forms of treatment for a condition. For example, a broken bone has to be set, but someone with arthritis could potentially pursue a few different options to help with pain and mobility. Going through the options with the patient during their visit, as well as providing helpful aids like pamphlets or videos, helps patients understand and feel confident about the choices they make with their health.
How Does Shared Decision Making Impact Patients’ Care?
When patients go through shared decision making with their healthcare providers, they’re more confident, more satisfied with their care, and are less likely to choose elective surgeries as part of their care. Why are these points important?
As a healthcare provider, every decision about your healthcare is previously informed by your expertise. But patients who don’t have the expertise are relying on you to help them understand their health, their treatment options, and the associated risks. Making decisions without knowing the risks is daunting, and practicing shared decision making gives patients the information they need to understand their options and make confident decisions.
Patients who feel empowered to make decisions about their health are going to be more satisfied with the care they receive. A patient who’s had shared decision making is more likely to understand in greater depth the treatment path they’ve chosen, therefore having a better idea of the expected outcomes and when they should see those outcomes. Additionally, patients who have had the opportunity to weigh treatment options with their preferences and values will feel better about their decision when they begin a new treatment.
Perhaps most importantly, with a better understanding of the risks and benefits of multiple options, patients are less likely to elect for surgery. In some cases, surgical intervention is unavoidable, but there are plenty of instances where surgery was not the only option and, in fact, one of the more costly and complicated options. Surgical procedures often have higher risks and longer recovery periods than other treatment options, but patients who don’t understand their options might elect for surgery, thinking it could be inevitable anyway.
What do I Need to Help Patients Make Informed Decisions?
As a busy provider, it’s unreasonable to schedule lengthy appointments for each patient—and your patients probably don’t want to be in a long appointment either. Trying to tackle everything at once can potentially overwhelm a patient as well, making them feel less empowered or confident.
When a patient is presented with a healthcare decision in which they have multiple reasonable treatment paths, you as the provider can offer them decision aids, or additional information often in the form of a rack card, brochure, or even a DVD or online video. Patients can review these materials on their own and come back with questions or their decision.
Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind with shared decision making is keeping the patient’s goals and situation priorities. The path from A to B is never simple, as things like pain tolerance, allergies or sensitivities, schedules, insurance coverage, and values can impact a person’s healthcare goals and their treatment path. If a patient is limited by one or more of these factors, some options may be eliminated easily.
For example, someone with arthritic joint pain and a low pain tolerance might not handle the discomfort of cortisone injections well, but if this wasn’t taken into account when they were talking to their healthcare provider, they may not end up with the right care.
Shared decision making helps patients better understand their options without overwhelming them with information. When patients have confidence in their decisions about their care, they’re more satisfied with the care they receive. At Aspen Laser, we set up our providers with a Practice Success Program that includes informational pamphlets about laser therapy treatment for your patients. Click the link below to learn more.