What is Shared Decision Making and what are its benefits?

A 2001 report of the Institute of Medicine defined patient centered care as “care that is respectful of and responsive to individual patient preferences, needs, and values,” and stated, “that patient values guide all clinical decisions.” In stating these principles, the report emphasized “the importance of clinicians and patients working together to produce the best possible outcomes.”

This process, whereby patients and clinicians work together as partners in making healthcare decisions, is called Shared Decision Making. While the partnership may include multiple clinicians and/or family members, the person receiving services is the one who determines what values drive the decision-making. While clinicians are experts in their fields and family members can play essential support roles, if the patient is not at the center of the process and recognized as an equal partner, then they are far less likely to participate with their own treatment. When individuals feel ownership of their own condition and actively begin the process of learning about and understanding the purpose and possible outcomes of the choices available to them, they are far more likely to follow through with treatment plans. When clinicians step outside the traditional role of paternalistic authority and assume the role of a partner based on the patient’s needs and values, and the clinicians training and knowledge, a true “shared decision making” process begins, and desired outcomes become increasingly possible.

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