How two-way communication and shared decision-making can improve doctor-patient relationships

In health care, the concept of shared decision-making is becoming more accepted, both by patients and physicians alike. In fact, studies suggest that treatment results improve when doctors and patients work together in medical decision-making.

Shared decision-making has developed in response to the sometimes uneasy relationship between a patient’s right to have input into their treatment options and a doctor’s responsibility to provide the best evidence-based care.

“Shared decision-making recognizes that the best treatment is the one that reflects what is most important to a well-informed patient who understands all the options and the potential outcomes,” says Michael Culyba, M.D., the vice president of medical affairs at UPMC Health Plan.

Smart Business talked with Dr. Culyba about the shared decision-making approach and its importance in health care.

What does shared decision-making mean?

Shared decision-making is a way in which a doctor talks with his or her patient about options and outcomes. In turn, the patient relays his or her opinions about the options resulting in a shared decision about treatment. Preference-sensitive care recognizes that there are trade-offs in the choice of medical care. Shared decision-making also addresses the ethical need to fully inform patients about the risks and benefits of treatments, as well as the need to ensure that patients’ values and choices play a leading role. Most patients willingly participate in shared decision-making, even when decisions are complicated and difficult.

Basically, it comes down to the way in which a doctor would talk with his or her patient about options and outcomes. It is also about how the patient relates his or her opinions about the options. Combined, the result is a shared decision about a course of treatment.

What makes shared decision-making different from traditional medical decisions?

Preference-sensitive care acknowledges that the best treatment is the one that reflects what is most important to the patient when that patient is well informed about the options and potential outcomes. Through the use of shared decision-making, doctors and patients can truly decide on the appropriate treatment. It is an especially useful strategy when there is no clear best treatment option.