Shared Decisionmaking in the Emergency Department: A Guiding Framework for Clinicians

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Abstract

Shared decisionmaking has been proposed as a method to promote active engagement of patients in emergency care decisions. Despite the recent attention shared decisionmaking has received in the emergency medicine community, including being the topic of the 2016 Academic Emergency Medicine Consensus Conference, misconceptions remain in regard to the precise meaning of the term, the process, and the conditions under which it is most likely to be valuable. With the help of a patient representative and an interaction designer, we developed a simple framework to illustrate how shared decisionmaking should be approached in clinical practice. We believe it should be the preferred or default approach to decisionmaking, except in clinical situations in which 3 factors interfere. These 3 factors are lack of clinical uncertainty or equipoise, patient decisionmaking ability, and time, all of which can render shared decisionmaking infeasible. Clinical equipoise refers to scenarios in which there are 2 or more medically reasonable management options. Patient decisionmaking ability refers to a patient’s capacity and willingness to participate in his or her emergency care decisions. Time refers to the acuity of the clinical situation (which may require immediate action) and the time that the clinician has to devote to the shared decisionmaking conversation. In scenarios in which there is only one medically reasonable management option, informed consent is indicated, with compassionate persuasion used as appropriate. If time or patient capacity is lacking, physician-directed decisionmaking will occur. With this framework as the foundation, we discuss the process of shared decisionmaking and how it can be used in practice. Finally, we highlight 5 common misconceptions in regard to shared decisionmaking in the ED. With an improved understanding of shared decisionmaking, this approach should be used to facilitate the provision of high-quality, patient-centered emergency care.

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