Shared decision making

Also known as: Patient-centered care


Shared decision making is when health care providers and patients work together to decide the best way to test for and treat health problems. There many test and treatment options for most health conditions. So your condition may be managed in more than one way.

Your provider will go over all your options with you. The two of you will make a decision based on your provider's expertise and your values and goals.

Shared decision making helps you and your provider choose a treatment you both support.

When to use Shared Decision Making

Shared decision making is often used when you and your provider need to make big decisions such as:

  • Taking a medicine for the rest of your life
  • Having major surgery
  • Getting genetic or cancer screening tests

Talking together about your options helps your provider know how you feel and what you value.

How Shared Decision Making Works

When facing a decision, your provider will fully explain your options. You can bring friends or family members to your visits to help in the shared decision making process.

You will learn about the risks and benefits of each option. These may include:

  • Medicines and possible side effects
  • Tests and any follow-up tests or procedures you may need
  • Treatments and possible results

Your provider also may explain why some tests or treatments are not available to you.

To help you decide, you may want to ask your provider about using decision aids. These are tools that can help you understand your goals and how they relate to treatment. It can also help you know what questions to ask.

Once you know your options and the risks and benefits, you and your provider may decide to go ahead with a test or procedure, or wait. Together, you and your provider can make better health care decisions.

How to Find a Doctor you can Talk With

When facing a big decision, you want to choose a doctor who is good at communicating with patients. You should also learn what you can to do get the most out of talking with your doctor. This will help you and your provider communicate openly and build a relationship of trust.


Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Shared Decision-Making. Available at: Accessed September 21, 2015.

Barry M, Edgman-Levitan S. Shared Decision Making - The Pinnacle of Patient-Centered Care. N Engl J Med. 2012; 366:780-1. PMID: 22375967

Elwyn G, Frosch D, Thomson R. Shared Decision Making: A Model for Clinical Practice. J Gen Intern Med. 2012 Oct; 27(10): 1361-7. PMID: 22618581

Oshima LE, Emanuel EJ. Shared decision making to improve care and reduce costs. N Engl J Med. 2013 Jan 3;368(1):6-8. PMID: 23281971

Review date:
December 07, 2016
Reviewed by:
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, medical director and director of didactic curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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