Engagement in decision-making and patient satisfaction: a qualitative study of older patients' perceptions of dialysis initiation and modality decisions

Nephrol Dial Transplant. 2017 Aug 1;32(8):1394-1401. doi: 10.1093/ndt/gfw307.


Background: Although shared decision-making (SDM) can better align patient preferences with treatment, barriers remain incompletely understood and the impact on patient satisfaction is unknown.

Methods: This is a qualitative study with semistructured interviews. A purposive sample of prevalent dialysis patients ≥65 years of age at two facilities in Greater Boston were selected for diversity in time from initiation, race, modality and vintage. A codebook was developed and interrater reliability was 89%. Codes were discussed and organized into themes.

Results: A total of 31 interviews with 23 in-center hemodialysis patients, 1 home hemodialysis patient and 7 peritoneal dialysis patients were completed. The mean age was 76 ± 9 years. Two dominant themes (with related subthemes) emerged: decision-making experiences and satisfaction, and barriers to SDM. Subthemes included negative versus positive decision-making experiences, struggling for autonomy, being a 'good patient' and lack of choice. In spite of believing that dialysis initiation should be the patient's choice, no patients perceived that they had made a choice. Patients explained that this is due to the perception of imminent death or that the decision to start dialysis belonged to physicians. Clinicians and family frequently overrode patient preferences, with patient autonomy honored mostly to select dialysis modality. Poor decision-making experiences were associated with low treatment satisfaction.

Conclusions: Despite recommendations for SDM, many older patients were unaware that dialysis initiation was voluntary, held mistaken beliefs about their prognosis and were not engaged in decision-making, resulting in poor satisfaction. Patients desired greater information, specifically focusing on the acuity of their choice, prognosis and goals of care.

Keywords: decision-making; dialysis; geriatric nephrology; informed consent; older adults; patient-centered outcomes; qualitative methods; shared decision-making.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Decision Making*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Patient Selection
  • Perception
  • Physicians
  • Qualitative Research
  • Renal Dialysis*