Articles and Case Studies

Working Together to Make Good Healthcare Choices

11 Mar 2015

by Gemma Brudenell


Experts recently warned that the way in which treatment decisions are made in Australia rapidly needs to improve.1 It was highlighted that we are “‘drastically lagging behind” other countries in equipping patients with the information they need to share in decision making”.2 What can you do to help improve this situation?

Shared decision making (SDM) is fundamental to the informed consent process and can provide a framework for improved informed consent conversations. A SDM consultation (outlined below) involves both the doctor and patient participating in making a health decision after discussing the treatment options, their benefits and risks, and the “patient’s values, preferences and circumstances”.1

1. Form good relationships by demonstrating a welcoming and caring attitude

This is the key to achieving SDM. It will help patients feel supported in sharing information and expressing their preferences and views.3

2. Introduce SDM

A SDM consult may be different from what patients are used to or comfortable with.4 To reduce any discomfort, it can help to:

  • briefly explain the style of the consultation1
  • emphasise it’s a “shared” process1
  • highlight that their personal knowledge and preferences are as important as medical expertise.4

3. Describe treatment options

Listing options provides a good structure for the conversation.3 From there you can:

  • check what the patient already knows and whether it’s correct3
  • give information in “chunks” where one important message is one “chunk” of information; and check understanding before moving on to the next section of information3
  • discuss uncertainty of treatment outcomes and the benefits and risks of each option
  • summarise by listing the options again and checking understanding using the “teach back” method, i.e. patients are encouraged to repeat what they’ve taken from the discussion.5


Remember to take the time to ensure what you talked about has been understood. Be flexible towards adapting communication to each person and use simple, plain language free from medical jargon. If someone doesn’t understand something, communicate the information in a different way.

4. Help patients explore their preferences towards making a decision

In the final step you can:3

  • elicit their reactions to options and information
  • encourage them to form preferences based on the information, their values and circumstances, e.g. “What, from your point of view, matters most to you?”
  • check if they are ready to make a decision or require more time or additional information.


What if the patient asks you to decide what they should do? A doctor cannot make the decision for their patient. Useful phrases when responding include:

  • “What I would do is because of who I am, and not everybody is the same.”2
  • “I’m happy to share my views and help you get to a good decision. But before I do so, may I describe the options in more detail so that you understand what is at stake?”3


People are entitled to make their own decisions about their health care. Patients who are supported to truly actively participate in selecting their treatment are more likely to make decisions that are best for them. They are also likely to have improved understanding of the chosen treatment and its risks which helps to avoid discrepancy between expectations and outcomes.1

SDM can result in a better informed, more empowered patient who takes more responsibility for their decision and is consequently less likely to have a negative reaction towards the doctor if what was warned actually occurs.


Gemma Brudenell
MDA National Education Services



1. Hoffmann T, Legare F, Simmons M, McNamara K, McCaffery K, Trevena L, et al. Shared Decision Making: What Do Clinicians Need to Know and Why Should They Bother? Med J Aust 2014;201(1):35–9. Available at:
2. Colyer S. Doctors Care But Do They Share? MJA Insight 2014(7 July). Available at:
3. Elwyn G, Frosch D, Thomson R, Joseph-Williams N, Lloyd A, Kinnersley P, et al. Shared Decision Making: A Model for Clinical Practice. J Gen Intern Med 2012;27(10):1361–7. Available at:
4. Joseph-Williams N, Edwards A, Elwyn G. Power Imbalance Prevents Shared Decision Making. BMJ 2014;348. Available at:
5. Mulsow J, Feeley M, Tierney S. Beyond Consent – Improving Understanding in Surgical Patients. Am J Surg 2012;203(1):112–20.

Communication with Patients, Consent, Anaesthesia, Dermatology, Emergency Medicine, General Practice, Intensive Care Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Ophthalmology, Pathology, Psychiatry, Radiology, Sports Medicine, Surgery, Physician, Geriatric Medicine, Cardiology, Plastic And Reconstructive Surgery, Radiation Oncology, Paediatrics, Independent Medical Assessor - IME


Doctors Let's Talk: Get Yourself A Fricking GP

Get yourself a fricking GP stat! is a conversation with Dr Lam, 2019 RACGP National General Practitioner of the Year, rural GP and GP Anesthetics trainee, that explores the importance of finding your own GP as a Junior Doctor.


25 Oct 2022

Systematic efforts to reduce harms due to prescribed opioids – webinar recording

Efforts are underway across the healthcare system to reduce harms caused by pharmaceutical opioids. This 43-min recording of a live webinar, delivered 11 March 2021, is an opportunity for prescribers to check, and potentially improve, their contribution to these endeavours. Hear from an expert panel about recent opioid reforms by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and changes to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. 

Diplomacy in a hierarchy: tips for approaching a difficult conversation

Have you found yourself wondering how to broach a tough topic of conversation? It can be challenging to effectively navigate a disagreement with a co-worker, especially if they're 'above' you; however, it's vital for positive team dynamics and safe patient care. In this recording of a live webinar you'll have the opportunity to learn from colleagues' experiences around difficult discussions and hear from a diverse panel moderated by Dr Kiely Kim (medico-legal adviser and general practitioner). Recorded live on 2 September 2020.