Shared decision making to improve health outcomes

Patients who are empowered to make decisions about their health that better reflect their personal preferences often experience more favourable health outcomes. This can include being less anxious a, quicker recovery and increased compliance with treatment regimes. This has been shown by the AQuA programme where teams that have implemented shared decision making have seen improvements in health indicators such as better blood glucose control in diabetes, patients’ length of stay in hospital being shorter, fewer patients not attending health appointments, and fewer patient complaints.

The link between shared decision making and health literacy

The World Health Organisation defines health literacy as ‘the personal characteristics and social resources needed for individuals and communities to access, understand, appraise and use information and services to make decisions about health.

Improving health literacy is a key influence on people’s health behaviours and, therefore, their health and wellbeing. This in turn has a benefit for the NHS as it reduces the demand each individual places on the health service.

Effective shared decision making improves health literacy by improving communication between professionals and patients, providing clear information and increasing patients’ knowledge. What is more, shared decision making has a positive disproportionate effect; it has a greater impact on those with lower health literacy or who are more disadvantaged so can also reduce health inequalities. However, it does mean that information needs  to be provided to people in such a way that they can make sense of it for this benefit to be realized.