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October 10th, 2017

Open Communication and Shared Decision-Making in Pharmacy

By Victor M. Montori

As pharmacists are now embedded in many healthcare teams with responsibilities for medication therapy management, teaching shared decision-making skills is essential in our pharmacy curriculum. In the 2nd year of a 4-year longitudinal evidence-based medicine (EBM) doctor of pharmacy school curriculum, student pharmacists are taught how to communicate evidence to patients and health care team members, and how to use a shared decision-making process with patients, using tools from the Mayo Clinic Shared Decision Making National Resource Center.  The following is a reflection of their experience, as future pharmacists, with the shared decision-making activity:

In a society where patients have a plethora of information at their fingertips, curiosity and involvement in self-care have become increasingly popular. However, with readily available information, particularly on the internet, both credible and deceptive, it is crucial that patients and health care providers work together in developing effective therapeutic plans. There are certain clinical scenarios that merit the implementation of swift, solitary decision-making by healthcare professionals. However, more often, there are cases where there is no definitive correct answer – situations in which priorities and values should be taken into consideration. We believe that the shared decision-making model is an optimal system, by which patients and health care providers can work together to formulate a clear picture of an effective action plan.

As doctor of pharmacy candidates at Western University of Health Sciences, we have had the valuable opportunity of engaging in progressive, interactive workshops that mimic the shared-decision making model. During one of these workshops, we were divided into teams and given hypothetical cases, modeling clinical scenarios. The goal of this workshop was for us to role-play as patients and pharmacists in a clinical setting to practice the shared decision making model and to learn how to effectively communicate with patients to discuss their risk, health history, and preferences to unite on healthcare decisions that are mutually agreed upon. This exercise was effective in shedding light onto the experience of a patient, as well as a practicing pharmacist in  shared-decision making.

For each of the two example cases, we were supplied with shared decision-making tools to assist us in formulating a decision for our patients’ therapy options. For the first case regarding diabetes management, we were exposed to the Diabetes Medication Choice decision aid cards (http://shareddecisions.mayoclinic.org/decision-aid-information/decision-aids-for-chronic-disease/diabetes-medication-management/), each of which focused on one topic and all pertinent information that may affect patients’ decisions, such as cost, lifestyle modifications, fear of needles and insulin therapy, blood sugar levels, side effect concerns, among other topics. In essence, these cards help  both the patient and healthcare provider discuss aspects that the patient valued in order to choose the most appropriate treatment option. For instance, the patient in this one case study did not have any cost limitations, was most interested in minimizing alterations to her daily routine and enhancing weight loss. We began looking at her options based on these topics, and moved our way to other topics based on her priority scale. We simultaneously integrated clinical expertise and scientific evidence into the equation in order to make the best possible decision.

Another tool we used was the online interactive tool for determining fracture risk, developed by the Mayo Clinic Shared Decision Making National Resource Center for our osteoporosis patient case. This was a great resource because  it allowed us to engage with our patients, as healthcare providers, by asking questions about their history, potential risk factors for developing osteoporosis, and preferences in their lifestyle or therapy. After we gathered all pertinent information, we input our patient’s specific data into the website, which then generated a user-friendly 100-face Cate’s plot, a visual aid that displays the patient’s personalized fracture risk with and without treatment, so that the patient could better understand the level of improvement offered by the potential treatment plan. Additionally, other tabs included tips on lifestyle modifications and other therapy options for patients to consider. This tool provided patients with a visual aid to better understand their risk for developing osteoporosis and the benefit of initiating osteoporosis therapy. Tools like these give healthcare providers, and patients alike, an opportunity to communicate with each other interactively and highlight the importance of EBM, especially when it comes to making important healthcare decisions. This allowed us another chance to interact with the patient and provide them with an outline of key points to focus on during the SDM session.

In essence, the shared decision-making model is the application of EBM. With the adoption of EBM in clincal practice, we believe that the SDM model will become organically integrated into most (if not all) health care practices. Participating in the SDM simulation workshop was very valuable as it fostered a patient-pharmacist interaction that remained focused on the patient’s priorities and values, while still catering to the pharmacist’s goals of achieving therapeutic efficacy. This is important because, based on our experience, it seems that patients respond best to information that is organized in a fashion they can appreciate and understand, without being clouded by hazy, complex information. This experience also allowed us to hone our clinical skills by showing us how to frame our questions and topics while effectively communicating evidence-based information to patients. We believe that due to their increased involvement in reaching a decision about the treatment plan, patients will be more likely to adhere to the designated agenda – as a proactive contributor to their healthcare plan, they will be more aware of the risks and benefits of adherence, as well as the risks of non-adherence. In situations where there is no definitive therapeutic plan, the patient and pharmacist can work together to figure out whether a treatment is necessary, and if so, which treatment option is most suitable. Ultimately, the SDM model will help us address clinical siutations that require a collaborative effort from both health care provider and patient.

Submitted by:

Doctor of Pharmacy Candidates, Western University of Health Sciences:
Ani Arsenyan, BSBA, Dara Nguyen, BS, Sona Sourenian, BS
EBM Curriculum Coordinator/Faculty and Professor, College of Pharmacy:
Cynthia Jackevicius, BScPhm, PharmD, MSc, BCPS-AQ Cardiology, FCSHP, FAHA, FCCP, FCCS

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