Implementing shared decision-making: consider all the consequences

Implement Sci. 2016 Aug 8:11:114. doi: 10.1186/s13012-016-0480-9.


Background: The ethical argument that shared decision-making is "the right" thing to do, however laudable, is unlikely to change how healthcare is organized, just as evidence alone will be an insufficient factor: practice change is governed by factors such as cost, profit margin, quality, and efficiency. It is helpful, therefore, when evaluating new approaches such as shared decision-making to conceptualize potential consequences in a way that is broad, long-term, and as relevant as possible to multiple stakeholders. Yet, so far, evaluation metrics for shared decision-making have been mostly focused on short-term outcomes, such as cognitive or affective consequences in patients. The goal of this article is to hypothesize a wider set of consequences, that apply over an extended time horizon, and include outcomes at interactional, team, organizational and system levels, and to call for future research to study these possible consequences.

Main argument: To date, many more studies have evaluated patient decision aids rather than other approaches to shared decision-making, and the outcomes measured have typically been focused on short-term cognitive and affective outcomes, for example knowledge and decisional conflict. From a clinicians perspective, the shared decision-making process could be viewed as either intrinsically rewarding and protective, or burdensome and impractical, yet studies have not focused on the impact on professionals, either positive or negative. At interactional levels, group, team, and microsystem, the potential long-term consequences could include the development of a culture where deliberation and collaboration are regarded as guiding principles, where patients are coached to assess the value of interventions, to trade-off benefits versus harms, and assess their burdens-in short, to new social norms in the clinical workplace. At organizational levels, consistent shared decision-making might boost patient experience evaluations and lead to fewer complaints and legal challenges. In the long-term, shared decision-making might lead to changes in resource utilization, perhaps to reductions in cost, and to modification of workforce composition. Despite the gradual shift to value-based payment, some organizations, motivated by continued income derived from achieving high volumes of procedures and contacts, will see this as a negative consequence.

Conclusion: We suggest that a broader conceptualization and measurement of shared decision-making would provide a more substantive evidence base to guide implementation. We outline a framework which illustrates a hypothesized set of proximal, distal, and distant consequences that might occur if collaboration and deliberation could be achieved routinely, proposing that well-informed preference-based patient decisions might lead to safer, more cost-effective healthcare, which in turn might result in reduced utilization rates and improved health outcomes.

Keywords: Collaborative deliberation; Conceptual model; Implementation; Measurement; Multilevel; Patient-centered care; Practice improvement; Quality improvement; Shared decision making.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Decision-Making / methods*
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Decision Making*
  • Health Plan Implementation / methods*
  • Humans
  • Patient Participation / methods*
  • Patient Preference