Background: The ability to do online searches for health information has led to concerns that patients find the results confusing and that they often lead to expectations for treatments that have little supportive evidence. At the same time, the science of summarizing research evidence has advanced to the point where it is increasingly possible to quantify treatment tradeoffs and to describe the balance between harms and benefits for individual patients.
Discussion: Trustworthy clinical practice guidelines provide evidence-based recommendations to health care practitioners based on assessments of study-level averages. In an effort to customize the use of evidence and ensure that choices are consistent with their personal preferences, tools for patients have been developed. Gradually, there is recognition that the audience for high quality evidence is much wider than merely health care professionals - and that there is a case to be made for creating tools that translate existing evidence into tools to help patients and clinicians work together to decide next steps. We observe two processes occurring: first, is the recognition that decision making in healthcare requires collaboration and deliberation, and second, to achieve this, we need tools designed to customize care at the level of individuals.