What Are Decision Aids?

Jillian O Keeffe

When a patient has a specific condition, he or she may have to choose between treatment options. A doctor may have trouble clearly laying out the details, risks and benefits to that particular patient, and may rush into a decision, later feeling as though not enough information was available for an accurate choice. Decision aids are ways that a patient can get all the relevant detail and go through it in his or her own time, which means that the final decision may be a better choice overall. Traditional decision aids include leaflets, but multimedia decision aids such as website pages and videos can be less daunting to read through.

Doctors provide limited consultation for patients who must make a difficult medical decision.
Doctors provide limited consultation for patients who must make a difficult medical decision.

Medical problems can be complex, and most people have not studied biology or medicine in detail. A doctor, on the other hand, typically spends years in college and focuses entirely on medical studies. The understanding of a condition, its risks, and the potential advantages and disadvantages of a treatment option, is usually much greater for the doctor than it is for the patient. Fundamentally, though, it is the patient who must make the choice of treatments.

Communication between a doctor and a patient is not always perfect, and the patient may only have a set amount of time in a consultation in which to ask questions. The patient may feel that his or her worries and questions are not properly dealt with, and may end up making a decision that is not actually the best option. With decision aids, the patient has access to all the detail necessary to understand the situation, and the options for treatments.

Typically, a decision aid is clear to read, and splits information up into relevant sections, to avoid overwhelming people with detail. This is especially achievable with web-based decision aids, as paper-based decision aids can become too bulky with many pages. Informational video clips can also be a way to learn, and videos are often combined with text on web-based decision aid programs.

Some decision aids are in a form that allows doctors to use it along with patients. This allows the two of them to navigate through an illness and find a specific set of treatment options for the particular problem the patient has. Other decision aids are designed for the patient to read or look at at home. This allows him or her to take time deciding, and then only after the risks and benefits are fully understood. A more informed view of medical procedures or drugs can be particularly useful in dilemmas such as whether to have amniotic fluid testing, or whether to get a hip replacement.

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