Promoting informed choice: transforming health care to dispense knowledge for decision making

Ann Intern Med. 2005 Aug 16;143(4):293-300. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-143-4-200508160-00010.


Ours is an era in which patients seek greater engagement in health care choices, increasing the demand for high-quality information about clinical options. Providing support for informed choice is not straightforward, however, because of challenges faced by clinicians, health systems, and consumers. Greater use of written or electronic tools can help to clarify choices for patients, but decision aids cannot replace the human element in facilitating informed choice. The ideal solution is to couple information with high-quality decision counseling to help patients understand the potential risks, benefits, and uncertainties of clinical options and to assist them in selecting the option that best accommodates their personal preferences. Decision counseling can be offered by 3 types of providers: clinicians who lack formal informed-choice training ("usual care"), clinicians with formal informed-choice training, or trained third parties who function as impartial decision counselors. Controlled studies are needed to determine which model is best, but none appears to be ideal. The health care system cannot truly support informed decision making without correcting the underlying obstacles that impede patient access to needed information. New information technology solutions, training programs, and reimbursement schemes are necessary. Patient demand for guidance will only increase as clinical options multiply and the world of information continues its rapid growth. Today's health care system is unprepared for the convergence of these 2 burgeoning domains, and the need to address systemic deficiencies will grow more urgent over time.

MeSH terms

  • Choice Behavior*
  • Counseling
  • Decision Making*
  • Decision Support Techniques
  • Delivery of Health Care*
  • Humans
  • Internet
  • Mass Media
  • Patient Participation / psychology*