Development of a program theory for shared decision-making: A realist synthesis

Tamara Waldron, Tracey Carr, Linda McMullen, Gill Westhorp, Vicky Duncan, Shelley May Neufeld, Lori Ann Bandura, Gary Groot

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    Background: Shared Decision-making (SDM), a medical decision-making model, was popularized in the late 1980s in reaction to then predominate paternalistic decision-making, aiming to better meet the needs of patients. Extensive research has been conducted internationally examining the benefits of SDM implementation; however, existing theory on how SDM works, for whom, in which circumstances, and why is limited. While literature has shown positive patient, health care provider, and system benefits (SDM outputs), further research is required to understand the nuances of this type of decision-making. As such, we set out to address: "In which situations, how, why, and for whom does SDM between patients and health care providers contribute to improved engagement in the Shared Decision-making process?" 

    Methods: To achieve our study goals we conducted a seven-step realist synthesis process, which included: (1) preliminary program theory development, (2) search strategy development, (3) selection and appraisal of literature in accordance with realist methodology, (4) data extraction, (5) identification of relevant formal theories, (6) data analysis and synthesis, and (7) formation of a revised program theory with the input of stakeholders. This process was done in accordance with RAMESES guidelines and publication standards for a realist synthesis. Expert consultations were also held to ensure consistency within the SDM literature. 

    Results: Through our realist synthesis, we developed a program theory of SDM which includes three contexts (pre-existing relationship, difficulty of decision, and system support), eight mechanism sets (anxiety, trust, perception of other party capacity, perception of time, self-efficacy, world view, perception of capacity to external support, and recognition of decision), and one outcome (engagement in SDM). 

    Conclusions: As far as the authors of this paper are aware, this paper is the first to begin unpacking how SDM works, for whom, in which circumstances, and why. By examining key mechanism sets and exploring how they facilitate or inhibit SDM, we have produced a program theory that may assist health care professionals, policy makers, and patients. While further research is suggested to further unpack the concepts identified within this paper, this provides an initial understanding into the theory behind SDM. Registration: PROSPERO: CRD42017062609.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number59
    Pages (from-to)1-17
    Number of pages17
    JournalBMC Health Services Research
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 23 Jan 2020


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