On Feb. 25, 2011, Shannon Brownlee, the Acting Director of the Health Policy Program, hosted a panel discussion regarding the implications of the recently released Dartmouth Atlas paper Improving Patient Decision-Making in Health Care: A 2011 Dartmouth Atlas Report Highlighting Minnesota. As the lead author of the report, Shannon underscored the need for patients facing elective procedures to be fully informed of their medical options as well as the distinct risks and benefits that come with those options. Drawing upon data from the Minnesota report, Shannon made a compelling case for shared decision making as a means of providing patient-centric care. When patients and physicians share medical decisions, patients are not only more satisfied with their decisions, but often opt for less invasive (and less costly) treatment courses.
Christine Bechtel, Vice President of the National Partnership for Women and Families, echoed the importance of shared decision making to achieving “whole person medicine,” in which patients are treated as more than the sum of their illnesses. Ms. Bechtel advocated for patients as well as clinicians to play a central role in determining how shared decision making would best be facilitated. Len Nichols, Director of the Center for Health Policy Research and Ethics at George Mason University, recognized shared decision making as a topic which transcended partisan boundaries by ensuring that every patient has the opportunity to make informed choices about their health care.
A conversation on the topic of patient decision aids (written documents, videos or web programs which help patients become more informed about treatment choices) followed the panelists’ presentations. Of particular interest to the panelists was the question of who should be allowed to produce patient decision aids and how decision aids should be certified. Yet another topic of discussion was how to determine when a patient has been truly “informed” of their medical options. The panelists also spoke about determining how best to incentivize physician participation in shared decision making.