The aim of the study was to examine the communication strategies of general practitioners attempting to involve patients in treatment or management decisions. This empirical data was then compared with theoretical 'competences' derived for 'shared decision making'. The subjects were four general practitioners, who taped conducted consultations with the specific intent of involving patients in the decision-making process. The consultations were transcribed, coded into skill categorizations and presented as visual display using a specifically devised sequential banding
Method: The empirical data from these purposively selected consultation from clinicians who are experienced in shared decision making did not match suggested theoretical frameworks. The views of patients about treatment possibilities and their preferred role in decision making were not explored. The interactions were initiated by a problem-defining phase, statements of 'equipoise' consistently appeared and the portrayal of option information was often intermingled with opportunities to allow patients to question and reflect. A decision-making stage occurred consistently after approximately 80% of the total consultation duration and arrangements were consistently made for follow-up and review. Eight of the 10 consultations took more than 11 min - these specific consultations were characterized by significant proportions of time provided for information exchange and patient interaction. The results demonstrate that some theoretical competences are not distinguishable in practice and other stages, not previously described, such as the 'portrayal of equipoise', are observed. The suggested ideal of a shared decision-making interaction will either require more time than currently allocated, or alternative strategies to enable information exchange outside the consultation.