Objective: Physicians are encouraged to actively involve patients in clinical decision-making, but this expectation has not been adequately examined from the physicians' perspective. Our objective was to identify and characterize physicians' attitudes toward patient participation in decision-making and to gain insight into how they consequently think about and structure the decision-making process.
Design: This was a qualitative cross-sectional study of physicians' reported attitudes and practices.
Setting: The study took place in private practice and academic physicians' practices.
Participants: A total of 53 academic and private practice physicians from primary care and surgical specialties, ranging from first year residents to recently retired, participated in the study.
Measurements: We performed a qualitative analysis of semistructured individual interviews.
Results: The physicians in this study expressed consistently positive attitudes toward patient participation in medical decision-making. They identified patient autonomy as an essential justification for patient participation but often went beyond an autonomy-based rationale. Several were motivated by the fundamental principle of beneficence as well as their own self-interest in avoiding legal liability. Many physicians saw their role as an expert who educates the patient but retains control over the decision-making process; others took a more collaborative approach, encouraging patients to assume decisional priority. The decision-making process often was modified by patient, physician, and environmental factors.
Conclusions: The physicians in this study demonstrated a positive, flexible approach toward including patients in decision-making. A one-dimensional model of shared decision-making based solely on the principle of autonomy fails to account for variability in how physicians allocate decisional priority and is therefore ethically inadequate.