By Rebecca Delaney, MS (Doctoral Student in Development Psychology, West Virginia University)
Throughout our lives we face a range of medical decisions that can affect ourselves and others. Should I undergo a medical or surgical procedure? Should I encourage a loved one to get a medical screening or diagnostic test? What medication would be best to take when managing a chronic illness?
How people approach such medical decisions differs. Often, the responsibility for the medical decision is placed on the physician given their medical expertise. However, some patients prefer to be more involved in the decision process (Brom et al., 2014).
Facilitating physician and patient engagement in a shared, or collaborative, decision-making process is gaining more attention within healthcare. Using shared decision-making strategies gives physicians more opportunity to provide patients with the necessary medical information to make informed choices.
Patients can also discuss their own opinions and preferences to ensure that their medical choices align with their values. Through this approach, patients can better understand the potential harms and benefits of medical options and feel informed about their decisions (O’Connor et al., 2003).
Here are 5 ways to become better involved in the medical decision-making process:
1. Ask questions!
- If you have difficulty understanding the medical information provided to you, be sure to ask your medical provider additional questions to gain clarity.
- Ask specific questions about the benefits and harms regarding your healthcare options (e.g., types of treatment, medication).
2. Seek advice from others
- Seeking advice and help from others can be beneficial for your long-term health (Delaney, Strough, & Turiano, 2016).
- Speaking to others who have the same chronic illness or have gone through a surgical procedure you are considering, for example, can help you evaluate the pros and cons to medical choices you need to make.
3. Be vocal about your preferences and experiences
- Make sure your medical preferences and values are known to the physician.
- Provide your physician with as much information as possible about your pain, feelings, and context of everyday life. This can lead to different medical choices based on your answers.
4. Ask for decision aids
- An increasing number of decision aids are being developed to help patients learn more about their health condition. Decision aids are used to facilitate conversations with their physician to decide which health care choice best fits the patients’ values and preferences.
- These have been shown to improve quality of health care, increase patient knowledge of benefits and harms of health care choices, and increase patient satisfaction (Shafir & Rosenthal, 2012).
5. Create a medical support network
- You can make your medical preferences clear to those close to you and have them be there to support you in your health care choices.
- This can be informal, such as bringing someone with you to be a second ear in case you missed what the physician said. Or more formal, such as having your caregiver or an assigned health care proxy involved with your medical decisions.
For more on this topic, check out this resource from the National Institute on Aging:
Rebecca Delaney is in the life-span developmental psychology doctoral program at West Virginia University, with plans to graduate in May of 2017. Rebecca plans to continue with research and work with older adults in the community postgraduation. Her research seeks to identify factors that can serve to inform intervention development to aid aging men and women with making advantageous health decisions and enhancing physician-patient relationships when considering important healthcare decisions.
Brom, L., Hopmans, W., Pasman, H. R. W., Timmermans, D. R., Widdershoven, G. A., & Onwuteaka-Philipsen, B. D. (2014). Congruence between patients’ preferred and perceived participation in medical decision-making: a review of the literature. BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making, 14(25), 1-16. doi: 10.1186/1472-6947-14-25
Delaney, R., Turiano, N., & Strough, J. (2016). Living longer with help from others: Seeking advice lowers mortality risk. Journal of Health Psychology. doi: 10.1177/1359105316664133
O’Connor, A. M., Stacey, D., Entwistle, V., Llewellyn-Thomas, H., Rovner, D., Holmes-Rovner, M., Tait, V., … Jones J. (2003). Decision aids for people facing health treatment or screening decisions. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 1, 1-106. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD001431
Shafir, A., & Rosenthal, J. (2012). Shared decision making: advancing patient-centered care through state and federal implementation. Washington, DC: National Academy for State Health Policy.
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