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Decision Aids in the United States: the Patient Response

Richard Wexler, Bethany S. Gerstein, Charles Brackett, Lyle J. (LJ) Fagnan, Kathleen M. Fairfield, Dominick L. Frosch, Carmen L. Lewis, Lawrence Morrissey, Leigh H. Simmons, David Swieskowski, Yuchiao Chang, Floyd J. Fowler, Michael J. Barry


Background:  In the United States and elsewhere, a growing chorus of voices is calling for the routine use of patient decision aids (DAs) and shared decision making (SDM) in day-to-day care.  A frequently cited barrier to this approach is the belief that many patients will not be able to understand key clinical information and/or prefer to delegate decision making to providers.  These beliefs, often held by providers, are thought to be particularly applicable to elderly and less educated patients.

Objectives: To test the perception that older and less educated patients will not value or benefit from DAs.

Research design: Self-administered questionnaires completed by patients after viewing DAs.

Subjects: 3001 patients in six primary care practice sites facing one of sixteen common medical decisions.

Measures: Amount of DA viewed, knowledge about medical tests or treatments, DA rating, and importance of receiving DAs from providers.

Results: Across age and education level, higher self-reported exposure to the DAs was associated with higher knowledge scores. Those over 65 and those who had not attended college had knowledge gains at least has high as those in other groups. There were no statistically significant differences by age or education in patient assessment of the importance of using DAs.

Conclusions: Patients in primary care settings in the U.S. learn from DAs, rate them highly, and believe that providers should make them available in ways that are mainly independent of patient age or formal education.


Shared decision making; patient decision aids; informed choice; patient education; person centered care; health literacy

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