By Khalid Benkhadra, M.D.
Recently, many studies have investigated the role patients want to play in the decision making process around how to manage their health. This is of great importance, because while clinicians are experts in what works for a certain condition, patients are experts at what works for them. Shared decision making (SDM) is a mode of decision making where the expertise of both clinicians are respected and integrated into decision making through a process of collaborative deliberation.. Prior studies examining the role patients prefer when deciding on cancer treatment found that patients prefer to play a role in decisions, but that role varied from patient to patient1-3. To determine whether or not patient’s preference for SDM modified quality of care or physician communication Kehl et al4 conducted a survey. This survey was conducted among participants in the cancer care outcomes research and surveillance consortium (CanCORS). Patients in this consortium were questioned about what their preferred role was when making cancer related treatment decisions and what actual role did they have in the decision making process around treatment for their cancer. They also reported on their perception of their overall quality of care.
Two thirds (67.8%) of patients reported that the overall quality of care they received was excellent and over half (55.8%) rated their physician’s communication highly. When they examined how these ratings correlated with the roles patients would prefer to play in the decision making process, they found that compared to patients who preferred share decisions patients who preferred that their physician control the decision making were less likely to give top ratings to their physician. These patients also gave lower ratings of physician communication. The reasons behind these results are not clear and need further investigation.
Percentage of patients reporting excellent quality of care and high communication were both poorly calculated. For quality of care, results were reported by decisions; individual patient rating was not reported. For rating communication, analysis was restricted to patients who answered 3 out of 5 questions and answers were averaged.
In general, outcomes were very subjective and it was difficult to assess how strong the relationship between the patients answers and the actual encounter; there is a possibility a patient might rank an encounter low if he is not happy about a reason not related to the actual encounter. Besides, no information was reported about how educated tha patients were about SDM (and if yes, how much they were). Having a third party watching the encounter and assessing the communication would be a good addition as we can compare it with the patients response and see if both match (rather than taking only the patient’s response)
These findings in general suggest that providing information to patients with cancer and engaging them in decision making is valuable, even for patients who express a preference for a physician controlled decision making process.