Decision Aids… Improving Clinical Experiences for Patients and Caregivers

Post Written By UMR Writing Intern Megan Zimmerman

Think about the last time you visited the hospital. Was it for a regular-checkup, a new diagnostic test, or perhaps a not-so-pleasant treatment? Navigating the medical system can be very challenging and intimidating for both new patients and frequent visitors. At the Mayo Clinic Center for Innovation, along with the Knowledge and Research Evaluation Unit, researchers are testing different tools called decision aids to improve clinical experiences for patients and caregivers alike. A decision aid is a tool (such as a pamphlet, online interactive resource, or videos) that is used to increase patient knowledge about available treatments.

More specifically, decision aids address patient concerns such as changes in weight, side effects, impact on daily life, and allows them to monitor their symptoms in preparation for their next appointment. These resources can also include information about the treatment including the potential benefits, risks and costs, and other clinical information. These tools describe where and why choices in treatment exist, and when applicable, provide patients the option of choosing no action. The resources can also include how patients might feel in the short-term and long-term outcomes and the consequences of each decision. Decision aids allow patients to be better informed about the care they are receiving and play a larger role in making more deliberate and autonomous decisions. So far, researchers have implemented decision aids for patients with diabetes, osteoporosis, depression, heart attacks, and statins (to treat high cholesterol). The team of researchers receive patient and user feedback frequently to improve the resources available and positively impact patient health outcomes.

The decision aids are also designed to improve the conversations between patients and their providers so that medications do not go to waste and at-home treatments are more effective. Oftentimes physicians and other healthcare providers understand the patient’s disease and the appropriate treatment for that condition, but the information is difficult to explain to the patient. Patients are the only ones who really know how they feel, what their health goals are, and what they want from treatment, therefore, it is important that they are informed and empowered to actively participating in the decisions related to their health. Ideally, the decision aids will be designed to facilitate and conversation between providers and patients that allows them to work together and find the combination of treatment and intervention for that individual. This relationship and the conversations that arise will improve the patient’s health and their quality of life.