The Effect of Shared Decisionmaking on Patients’ Likelihood of Filing a Complaint or Lawsuit

A Simulation Study, Annals of Emergency Medicine, January 2019

Physicians should be aware that respectful and patient-centered communication may be medicolegally protective in the event of an adverse outcome.

Abstract

Study objective
Shared decisionmaking has been promoted as a method to increase the patient-centeredness of medical decisionmaking and decrease low-yield testing, but little is known about its medicolegal ramifications in the setting of an adverse outcome. We seek to determine whether the use of shared decisionmaking changes perceptions of fault and liability in the case of an adverse outcome.

Methods
This was a randomized controlled simulation experiment conducted by survey, using clinical vignettes featuring no shared decisionmaking, brief shared decisionmaking, or thorough shared decisionmaking. Participants were adult US citizens recruited through an online crowd-sourcing platform. Participants were randomized to vignettes portraying 1 of 3 levels of shared decisionmaking. All other information given was identical, including the final clinical decision and the adverse outcome. The primary outcome was reported likelihood of pursuing legal action. Secondary outcomes included perceptions of fault, quality of care, and trust in physician.

Results
We recruited 804 participants.

  • Participants exposed to shared decisionmaking (brief and thorough) were 80% less likely to report a plan to contact a lawyer than those not exposed to shared decisionmaking (12% and 11% versus 41%; odds ratio 0.2; 95% confidence interval 0.12 to 0.31).
  • Participants exposed to either level of shared decisionmaking reported higher trust, rated their physicians more highly, and were less likely to fault their physicians for the adverse outcome compared with those exposed to the no shared decisionmaking vignette.

Conclusion
In the setting of an adverse outcome from a missed diagnosis, use of shared decisionmaking may affect patients’ perceptions of fault and liability.

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