Tools to help you make more informed medical decisions

April 11, 2017 in Health Risk Management  •  By Miles Varn
informed medical decisions

As more and more patients become active partners in the process of making medical decisions, the need for tools that provide the evidence-based information that can help them make informed medical decisions grows. An Institute of Medicine study found that majority of people facing elective surgery, receiving a new prescription, or a recommendation for cancer screening wanted to know about the risks associated with their physicians’ recommendations and discuss those risks. However, less than half of the people surveyed said their physician asked them about their questions and concerns, so the key is to be proactive and start these conversations with your physician.

To help you get the information you need when making medical decisions, healthcare institutions, insurers, and patient advocacy organizations have developed a range of decision aids. A review by the Cochrane Collaboration, a global, independent, non-profit network of researchers, healthcare professionals, and patients, found that when patients use these aids, they are more satisfied with the care they receive and less likely to undergo elective surgery, which some researchers have found is recommended too often or inappropriately.

What medical decision support tools are available and where can you find them?

There are a number of tools you can use to gather the information you need to make more informed medical decisions. These tools, which include brochures, videos, interactive online guides, checklists, and more, can help you understand the risks and benefits of a treatment approach and help you formulate questions about your options that you should discuss with your physician. Keep in mind that these tools are designed to be used in concert with discussions with your physician, who will be able to answer questions based on your personal and family medical history.

Some of the tools available include:

  • Mayo Clinic Shared Decision Making National Resource Center: These decision aids are designed to be used in consultation with your doctor and provide information about a range of health issues, including reducing the risk of heart disease, medication choice for depression and diabetes, and treatment options for osteoporosis, angina, and rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Option Grid: An interactive, online tool developed under the auspices of the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, Option Grid guides you through the pros and cons of treatment options for a very wide range of health issues. The grids are also available as printable PDFs.
  • Dartmouth Hitchcock Health System Decision Points: There are online guides that focus on making decisions about medical tests, medications, surgeries, and treatments for a range of health issues. The guides provide background facts on your options, allow you to compare options, and help you explore your feelings about the options available so that you can discuss them with your physician and make a more informed decision.
  • Choosing Wisely: This website offers decision guides developed by Consumer Reports in conjunction with medical societies. There are guides on a wide range of topics, from tests and treatments for neck and back pain to making decisions about genetic testing.
  • Cochrane: The site provides reviews of clinical research to help you make medical decisions.

Working with a health advisor can also help you make informed medical decisions. An advisor can provide you with evidence-based information on health issues and treatment options, as well as help you develop questions for your physician and attend appointments with you to ask questions and take notes.