Background: An important part of delivering high-quality, patient-centered care is making sure patients are informed about decisions regarding their health care. The objective was to examine whether patients' perceptions about how informed they were about common medical decisions are related to their ability to answer various knowledge questions.
Methods: A cross-sectional survey was conducted November 2006 to May 2007 of a national sample of US adults identified by random-digit dialing. Participants were 2575 English-speaking US adults aged 40 and older who had made 1 of 9 medication, cancer screening, or elective surgery decisions within the previous 2 years. Participants rated how informed they felt on a scale of 0 (not at all informed) to 10 (extremely well-informed), answered decision-specific knowledge questions, and completed standard demographic questions.
Results: Overall, 36% felt extremely well informed (10), 30% felt well informed (8-9), and 33% felt not at all to somewhat informed (0-7). Multivariate logistic regression analyses showed no overall relationship between knowledge scores and perceptions of being extremely well informed (odds ratio [OR] = 0.94, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.63-1.42, P = 0.78). Three patterns emerged for decision types: a negative relationship for cancer screening decisions (OR = 0.58, CI 0.33-1.02, P = 0.06), no relationship for medication decisions (OR = 0.99, CI 0.54-1.83, P = 0.98), and a positive relationship for surgery decisions (OR = 3.07, 95% CI 0.90-10.54, P = 0.07). Trust in the doctor was associated with feeling extremely well-informed for all 3 types of decisions. Lower education and lower income were also associated with feeling extremely well informed for medication and screening decisions. Retrospective survey data are subject to recall bias, and participants may have had different perspectives or more factual knowledge closer to the time of the decision.
Conclusions: Patients facing common medical decisions are not able to accurately assess how well informed they are. Clinicians need to be proactive in providing adequate information to patients and testing patients' understanding to ensure informed decisions.