Clinical decisions are optimally made collaboratively, with patients and clinicians working together to review all available information and treatment options. A comprehensive dialogue that identifies and brings into focus individual patient goals within the context of the evidence base is the ideal approach. Shared decision-making (SDM) is essential to making choices about treatment preferences and characterizes the optimal practice of evidence-based medicine and good patient care. By supporting patient autonomy and engagement, the patient and family become partners in their health care. Decisions surrounding whether or not to proceed with diagnostic and therapeutic procedures after fully discussing appropriate alternatives are best made considering both the evidence base and patient goals. The central feature of SDM is that a clinician and a patient engage in a dialogue to jointly make decisions, with reciprocated sharing of information that both find beneficial to reach the best decision. SDM entails much more than patient education or informed consent: there must be bidirectional transfer of knowledge, discussion of patient preference, and a process of deliberation reaching consensus. Patient decision aids have been shown to improve patient understanding of options and risks, enhance the patient's involvement, and focus their comprehension of treatment preferences. Patient decision aids also may be of value in strengthening the physician-patient relationship. The need to emphasize SDM should be integrated into the quality process at every level to make it meaningful, not an apparently arbitrary obstacle that requires discovery of a shrewd work-around. A more patient-oriented consideration of the benefits of symptom relief and improved quality of life, in addition to survival and freedom from adverse events, could only be beneficial.
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