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What Is Shared Decision Making?

Published on Apr 27, 2014
Authored by Emily Freeman, PhD

Shared Decision Making: Asking Questions, Making Good Decisions

Making decisions about our health conditions or illnesses is not always easy. Sometimes the treatments that the doctor proposes on your behalf may not be the most appropriate option for you. Sharing your thoughts, voicing your concerns and asking the right questions can help you—together with your doctor—make good decisions about your healthcare.

Do You Know What Shared Decision Making Is?

Shared decision making allows you and your doctor to make decisions together about your healthcare. Your doctor can discuss the available scientific or medical evidence as well as your personal preferences in order to come up with the best possible treatment options for your condition or illness. Basically, it’s having a 2-way conversation with your doctor.

Why Should You Participate in Decisions About Your Health?

People often make decisions about medical treatments without completely understanding their options. Some studies show that people who are involved in shared decision making with their healthcare professional are more likely to be satisfied with decisions and the process in which they made their health decisions.

Being a part of the decision making process can help improve your personal health outcomes and your experience with healthcare. According to the National Patient Safety Foundation, shared decision making may also help you:

  • Avoid mistakes in taking medicines or preparing for a medical procedure
  • Get well sooner
  • Improve your ability to manage chronic conditions

How Can You Be Effective at Sharing Decisions With Your Doctor?

Prepare for your appointment. Take some time to think about what you want to accomplish. Having your thoughts and questions in order will help you have a more productive conversation with your doctor.

Ask questions. Patients should be prepared to ask questions about their condition/illness/medications. Write down your questions—having them in hand can lead to a more valuable discussion with your doctor or healthcare team. At a minimum you should ask:

  • What is my main problem?
  • What do I need to do?
  • Why is it important for me to do this?

Know your personal health information. Having a list of dates and details of your prior doctor visits, conditions/illnesses, surgeries/procedures and medications can help give you and your provider a clearer picture of your condition and other important things to consider. Keeping a health journal is a good way of tracking this information.

Be honest. Trust is an important factor in shared decision making. Holding back any personal health information can hinder your doctor from having a clear picture of your condition—this can lead to incomplete or inadequate care. Also, if you don’t understand something, ask for clarification. For example ask your doctor to spell the medication or treatment recommendation.

Remember, if you don’t participate and have a dialogue with your doctor about what treatment options are best for you, you may not follow through on your own healthcare. When you become a part of the decision making process, you and your doctor can make better decisions about your health, and this can lead to you living a healthier life. Ultimately, the choice is yours to make. 

Emily Freeman, PhD was a Health Behavior and Program Evaluation scientist within the Epidemiology group in Worldwide Safety and Regulatory at Pfizer.

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Quick Poll

After reading this article, how likely are you to speak with a healthcare professional or someone you know about shared decision making?


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