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Patients Need Decision Support, Too

Greg Freeman for HealthLeaders Media, May 14, 2012
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This article appears in the May 2012 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

Decision support also can be used with patients, and incorporating the human element was important at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, which has developed a software program for use in supporting patient health decisions.

Developed over the past 10 years, the system is being used in institutional review board–approved research studies and is hoped to be rolled out for clinical use within a year, says Ronald E. Myers, PhD, professor and director of the division of population science and department of medical oncology at the Kimmel Cancer Center at Thomas Jefferson University.

The decision-support system enables patients and providers to explore the pros and cons associated with challenging healthcare decisions, such as whether to pursue a course of chemotherapy. The system helps identify important factors that influence decision-making, weigh the influence of relevant factors, clarify personal preference among available options, and encourage selection of an option that makes sense, Myers says.

An important part of developing the system was realizing that clinicians and patients don't just need information, Myers says: They need help synthesizing that information and determining what to do with it.

"Typically in healthcare, and especially with patients, we provide information, and if the person doesn't understand it we provide more information. This approach overwhelms the patients' capacity to understand and may be particularly problematic with patients from diverse backgrounds. Patients may be confused about their best course of action," he says. "A better system helps them look at the options and determine what personal and clinical decision factors inform whether one option is better than the other. Then they can determine which of those factors is the most important, and they work their way toward a decision.


This article appears in the May 2012 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.