Turning signals into meaning –'Shared decision making' meets communication theory

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Shared decision making (SDM) is being increasingly challenged for promoting an innovative role model while adhering to an archaic approach to patient-clinician communication, both in clinical practice and the research field. Too often, SDM has been studied at the individual level, which ignores the interpersonal system between patients and physicians. We aimed to encourage debate by reflecting on the essentials of SDM in terms of epistemology. We operationalized the SDM core concept of information exchange in terms of social systems theory. An epistemological analysis of the term information refers to its inherent process character. Exchange of information thereby becomes synonymous with social sense construction, indicating that, rather than just being a vehicle, the act of communication itself is the information. We plead for the adoption of existing dyadic analytical methods such as those offered by the interpersonal paradigm. Implications of an updated concept of information for the use of SDM-evaluation methods, for SDM-goal setting, and for clinical practice of SDM are described.

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