Facilitating decision making for better, more informed patient choices

Jan 5, 2017
Facilitating decision making for better, more informed patient choices

Making decisions is a process everyone goes through every day of their lives, from small, relatively insignificant decisions to much more complex, higher-level judgments. One area in which decision making is of particular importance is in healthcare where decisions about treatments and care can drastically affect individual experiences and quality of life.

An organization that specifically focuses on the importance of decision making is the Society of Decision Professionals (SDP). Established in 2010, the goal of the SDP is a broad one: to improve the process of decision making and the quality of decisions made worldwide. In order to do so, the Society raises awareness of its methodology, partaking in a number of activities from hosting monthly webinars to an annual conference.

In September 2016, the SDP expanded its awareness efforts, hosting the inaugural Shared Decision Making Summit, in partnership with the Society for Medical Decision Making (SMDM).

While the SMDM has long been a home for researchers studying shared decision making (SDM) – the conversation between patients and their healthcare professionals to reach a healthcare choice together – the Summit represented the SDP’s first specific venture into the healthcare space.

The event brought together a variety of individuals and organizations from the healthcare sector to discuss how SDM can be implemented across the field. This year, the Summit’s focus was on the pharmaceutical industry’s role in enabling shared decision making.

“The focus of the first-ever SDM Summit was to try and assist the pharmaceutical industry in realizing what appropriate roles it might be able to play in supporting the concept of shared decision making,” explained Tyler Ludlow, SDP board member.

“It brought together a broad range of industry representatives, from patients, patient advocates, researchers and physicians, to pharma individuals involved in clinical development, patient advocacy groups and the real world evidence sector, in order to collectively discuss how decision making could be improved across the wider healthcare sector.”

Beginning on the evening of Sept. 27, the Summit opened with a relaxed social dinner followed by a set of keynote sessions, including presentations on the brief history of SDM and the story of a couple facing a difficult decision. The husband’s father passed away from early onset Alzheimer’s, which the family later learned was due to a genetic mutation, something that each of his children had a 50/50 chance of inheriting. The couple had struggled for six years with the decision to take a genetic test to know whether they faced the same fate in 15 years, or whether there was no risk. After applying a structured decision process, the couple experienced a significant release of the burden they had been carrying. The story was a very poignant and grounding experience for the rest of the Summit attendees.

The next day signaled the core of the event, where its four main topics were discussed in-depth: SDM and clinical trial enrollment, patient-centered data and medication decisions, patient empowerment, and equipping providers to become decision facilitators.

To close out the long day of discussion, attendees could take part in outdoor activities including hiking, canoeing and a garden tour followed by an informal dinner.

The final half-day further emphasized the Summit’s collaborative approach, creating breakout groups, each of which were given a specific topic to discuss and then report back to other groups upon return. The Summit finished with an open discussion about plans for the next Summit.

Unlike traditional events of its nature, the SDM Summit was not delivered via a presentation-filled agenda. Instead, key questions and concepts were conveyed to attendees with open discussion.

“The conference is not a typical line-up of talks with questions afterward. Much like the overarching concept of SDM, we want those attending to reach conclusions through discussion with others,” explained Ludlow. “In that regard, we decided to instead offer questions openly to the attendees and spark a discussion between representatives from different disciplines about topics that will affect each other equally.”

The welcome aspect of encouraging discussion between those from different walks of the same industry represents an ongoing shift throughout healthcare, as health stakeholders continue to integrate more people into the making of vital decisions, including patients and patient advocates. To Ludlow, the Summit achieved exactly that.

“For me, the biggest highlight was seeing so many representatives from very different areas of the healthcare industry sitting in the same room and discussing the importance of implementing SDM. There were no boundaries dictated by each other’s disciplines – instead, the meeting was very collegial and collaborative, with people sharing their ideas and building on one another’s.”

This continual shift toward a more ‘patient-centric’ approach means patient voice is more important than ever in the way healthcare is delivered and progresses. Instead of dictated decisions from healthcare professional to patient, involvement of a broader range of stakeholders is helping clarify what were once complex decisions about healthcare, leading to better, more informed patient choices.

“Implementing SDM across an entire sector will not be something achieved by individuals or siloed organizations. It is a huge cultural shift which will only be achieved in a reasonable time frame through a very broad-based holding of hands to collectively move together across boundaries. The Summit was a perfect example of how to go about this change in a productive manner.”

Facilitating decision making for better, more informed patient choices


As a decision scientist, Tyler helps people (1) to see decisions as opportunities for growth rather than as burdens, and (2) to make better decisions.  After a decade of helping senior leaders and organizations make large, complex, and strategic decisions, he turned his focus to individual and personal contexts.  He founded the Decision Skills Institute to make cutting-edge decision science accessible to everyone.  Tyler created the Shared Decision Making Summit, an annual event that brings together stakeholders from across healthcare (patients, caregivers, advocates, providers, researchers, pharma companies, regulators, etc) to identify practical ways to collectively change healthcare and improve decision making.  At home, he with his wife try to apply decision science in one of the most difficult contexts – in parenting their nine children.



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