A Guide to Understanding Patient Responsibility and the Partnership in Medical Decision-Making
The Informed Decision-Making Process
Making a truly informed medical decision involves more than a single decision. It is a step-by-step process in which you take responsibility for making a number of decisions. Your decision to seek help was the first step in that process. The rest of the process is described below.
1. Understand Your Condition
DECISION #1: Am I willing to take a studious approach to understanding my condition?
You can’t make an informed decision about something you do not understand. So your first step is to gain knowledge about your disease.
To accomplish this, you will need to:
- Listen carefully to your healthcare professionals when you are presented with a diagnosis of your condition and a description of your treatment options.
- Thoroughly read any literature provided by your healthcare team.
- Seek information on your own (many associations provide literature free of charge to the general public) ask questions about anything you do not understand.
2. Weigh the Risks and Benefits
DECISION #2: Do the potential benefits of this treatment outweigh the possible risks?
Once you have gained adequate information on your condition, you must weigh the risks and benefits associated with various treatment options. Keep in mind the impact your condition has on your way of life. Consider the limitations your symptoms place on your ability to perform those activities that are most important to you.
In some cases, you may discover the risks of a particular treatment are greater than the benefits. In other cases, the benefits to be gained may outweigh any possible risk. Discuss these issues with your family and ask your healthcare team about anything you do not understand.
3. Develop Realistic Expectations
DECISION #3: Am I willing to develop and accept realistic expectations?
What do you want to accomplish by having medical treatment? Do you want to simply gain relief from pain or do you want to return to a particular level of physical activity? After you determine your goals, ask your healthcare professional if they are realistic and what you will have to do to accomplish them.
4. Commit to Working at Recovery
DECISION #4: Am I willing to work at recovery, including making lifestyle changes if necessary?
Medical treatment may help to relieve your symptoms, but it can’t heal your body or return it to a former state of health. Treatment is only the beginning of your recovery process. As your body begins to heal on its own, you must make a physical and mental commitment to working at regaining your lost abilities. Recognize that it is your effort, your lifestyle choices, and the severity of your medical condition that will determine the degree to which you can return to a normal level of activity.
5. Make a Final Decision
DECISION #5: Am I willing to accept responsibility for my own healthcare decisions?
After you have answered the first four questions, all that remains is for you to decide which treatment option is best for you. It may be helpful to discuss your options with your family and members of your healthcare team, but in the end only you can make the final decision. Once you make that decision, trust in it, look to the future, and work to achieve the best possible recovery.
The benefits to you!
By Taking Ownership of Your Healthcare Decisions, You are Likely to Have:
- Less anxiety prior to and during your treatment
- A better mental attitude, which can help to increase your body’s own healing powers
- A speedier recovery because you are committed to actively participating in returning to a normal level of activity
- The best recovery possible because you have realistic goals and work steadily to achieve them
A patient-centered approach to medical decision-making empowers patients and involves them in a partnership of shared responsibility with their healthcare professionals.
The Traditional Approach
Traditionally, medical decisions were made for patients by their healthcare professionals. The attitude was that doctors and nurses, as experts in the field, were the ones best prepared to choose what was indicated for the patient. As a result, patients were left with only a passive role in the decision-making process. It’s not difficult to recognize that this is neither a wise nor a desirable way to make any major decision.
Sharing the Responsibility
Today, consumers of medical services are seeking more meaningful involvement in healthcare decisions. To take that role and to make a truly informed decision, patients need information on:
- Their medical condition.
- The risks and benefits of their various treatment options.
- Their responsibility to actively participate in the treatment and recovery process.
- Once patients are empowered with this information, they enter into a partnership with their healthcare professionals in which each party agrees to fulfill certain obligations.
Healthcare Professionals’ Responsibilities
In a patient-centered approach to medical decision-making, healthcare professionals are responsible for:
- Establishing a diagnosis.
- Presenting appropriate treatment options, including their risks and benefits.
- Providing patient education.
- Providing the necessary technical skills.
- Supporting you during your recovery.
In this process, you are responsible for:
- Taking a studious approach to learning about your medical condition.
- Weighing the risks and benefits of your various treatment options and accepting their outcomes.
- Developing realistic expectations.
- Making the final decision about which treatment option is best for you.
- Supporting your healthcare team by diligently following their instructions.
- Working at recovering from your condition, including making lifestyle changes if necessary.
Remember, it is your body that will heal itself and your own efforts that will lead to your recovery.