A Framework for Encouraging Patient Engagement in Medical Decision Making

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Patients have a right to make decisions about their medical care because they have the most at stake. Although current social forces and policies press for greater patient participation, there is little guidance on how physicians can comply. This paper describes the current culture influencing the physician-patient relationship, offers a practical framework and strategies to physicians to engage patients in medical decision making, and discusses the implications for patient safety. We describe several barriers that make patient involvement difficult to practice, such as differences between models that define the roles of both parties in the relationship. Arguably, patients should make all medical care decisions, but there are situations when this is not feasible. Nonetheless, there is a greater imperative for patient decision making if there are multiple treatment options; if the alternatives differ relative to clinical, quality-of-life, or financial outcomes; or if there are different clinical risks and benefits. We offer 3 strategies to encourage patients to make medical decisions and suggest implications for the field of patient safety.

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