Clinical practice guidelines aim to improve the health of patients by guiding individual care in clinical settings. Many guidelines specifically about health promotion or primary disease prevention are beginning to support informed patient choice, and suggest that clinicians and patients engage in shared discussions to determine how best to tailor guidelines to individuals. However, guidelines generally do not address how to translate evidence from the population to the individual in clinical practice, or how to engage patients in these discussions. In addition, they often fail to reconcile patients' preferences and social norms with best evidence. Shared decision making (SDM) is one solution to bridge guidelines about health promotion and disease prevention with clinical practice. SDM describes a collaborative process between patients and their clinicians to reach agreement about a health decision involving multiple medically appropriate treatment options. This paper discusses: 1) a brief overview of SDM; 2) the potential role of SDM in facilitating the implementation of prevention-focused practice guidelines for both preference-sensitive and effective care decisions; and 3) avenues for future empirical research to test how best to engage individual patients and clinicians in these complex discussions about prevention guidelines. We suggest that SDM can provide a structure for clinicians to discuss clinical practice guidelines with patients in a way that is evidence-based, patient-centered, and incorporates patients' preferences. In addition to providing a model for communicating about uncertainty at the individual level, SDM can provide a platform for engaging patients in a conversation. This process can help manage patients' and clinicians' expectations about health behaviors. SDM can be used even in situations with strong evidence for benefits at the level of the population, by helping patients and clinicians prioritize behaviors during time-pressured medical encounters. Involving patients in discussions could lead to improved health through better adherence to chosen options, reduced practice variation about preference-sensitive options, and improved care more broadly. However, more research is needed to determine the impact of this approach on outcomes such as morbidity and mortality.
- patient-clinician communication
- practice guidelines
- shared decision making