The Q-Series: What is Shared Decision Making?

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Q Series: A series of informative blog posts that explain the building blocks of health care quality and emerging trends in health care delivery reform.

Q: What is “Shared Decision Making?”

Even though we’re a year past what Back to the Future promised—and failed to deliver (still no flying cars!)—we do have more access to our health data than ever before. And the new, informed health care consumer is disrupting the status quo.

Most people would agree that the era of the traditional roles of doctor and patient (where the doctor has all the knowledge and does all the talking and the patient does all the listening) is waning. Thanks in large part to the Internet, patients can research an illness or symptom and bring their own depth of knowledge to the doctor-patient relationship.

The concept of shared decision making discards the idea of the patient’s passive consent to a course of treatment and focuses on patient empowerment—patients are the pilots of their own treatment plan and health care, and the doctor is the co-pilot.

Although it’s true that some patients prefer their doctor to be in charge of their care, it’s also important to acknowledge that not all patients have the skills needed to surf the Web for medical information or to navigate the maze we refer to as “the health care system.” Still, patients possess an inherent understanding of much of their body’s physical and emotional needs that even the most experienced doctor can only guess at. It’s exactly this type of information that each patient should share with their physician when deciding on a treatment plan.

The doctor-patient relationship is a personal one. What drives it is trust between a doctor and a patient—and a shared appreciation for the knowledge each brings to the examining table.

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