Understanding Shared Decision-Making in Health Care

doctor and woman talking

Within our health system, we are working to move past the days of a doctor simply telling a patient “This is what you should do or need to do.” Instead, we are committed to a new dynamic, one focused on collaboration between you and your provider.

Patients Want to be Involved in Decisions about Their Care

Through patient studies and surveys, it is shown that most people want to work together with a provider to make health-care decisions. While each person may prefer a different level of involvement, it is clear that people want to have a voice in decisions about their own care.

Additionally, we know that when patients and providers make decisions together, patients do better.

What is Shared Decision-Making?

A process called shared decision-making allows you and your provider to explore the benefits, harms and risks of each option together through a conversation. It combines the science, opinions of your provider, and your voice to find an option that works for you.

Shared Decision-Making Throughout Your Health-Care Journey

While often associated with serious illness conversations, shared decision-making is important at various points during your healthcare journey, not just end of life.

Nearly any decision that includes various options is an opportunity for shared decision-making. This may include advance care planning, screening for cancer, starting a new medication, or choosing a surgical option. 

You and Your Provider Play Equally Important Roles

Providers offer a valuable perspective when making medical decisions. They have received extensive training and will be aware of the various options, risks, and benefits. Also, they can lend insight into any questions you may have.

But don’t forget, you bring a valuable perspective to the table, too. After all, only you can share any fears and worries related to the decision as well as your personal values and goals. What is important to you may be different from what is important to someone else. No amount of medical training will allow a provider to know these specifics about you. 

Being a Part of Shared Decision-Making

A shared decision-making interaction may look different from what you are used to. The provider will do their part to set the stage for collaboration.

As a patient, you can do a few things as well:

  • Let you provider know how involved you want to be in decisions about your care. This varies for each patient. It’s okay if you want to be more involved or less involved. 
  • Think about your values and goals, as well as fears and worries. These will help you better explore options that align with your preferences. 
  • Be comfortable asking questions. Go ahead, ask for clarification if you don’t understand something. It’s challenging to make a good decision if you don’t understand the specifics related to the options. 

Above all, keep in mind that the best health-care decisions are ones that are based on what matters most to you.

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Michael R. Ripchinski, MD, MBA, CPE, FAAFP

Michael R. Ripchinski, MD, MBA, CPE, FAAFP, is a family medicine physician and Chief Clinical Officer for Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health. He earned a bachelor’s degree from The University of Scranton and a Master of Business Administration from Saint Joseph’s University. A graduate of Penn State College of Medicine, he is a Fellow in the American Academy of Family Physicians and a Certified Physician Executive. Dr. Ripchinski is board-certified in family medicine and clinical informatics, and maintains a continuity practice at Walter L. Aument Family Health Center in Quarryville.

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Haley Fuller, CHES

Haley Fuller, CHES, is a patient education specialist with the Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health Community Care Collaborative.

About LG Health Hub

The LG Health Hub features breaking medical news and straightforward advice to help individuals of all ages make healthy choices and reach their wellness goals. The blog puts articles by trusted Lancaster General Health clinical experts, good 'n healthy recipes, videos, patient stories, and health risk assessments at your fingertips.


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