The Potential of Shared Decision Making to Reduce Health Disparities

Current methods of obtaining an informed consent leave much to be desired. Patients rarely read consent forms or understand all of the risks, benefits, or alternatives associated with their treatment. Evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of treatment options often presents a more significant challenge for patients with lower levels of health literacy.

This article reviews the evidence of shortcomings in our informed consent system and then explores the potential for a new approach to engage patients at all levels of health literacy in their treatment decisions. Specifically, the article will examine the potential of shared decision-making (SDM) to bridge gaps in knowledge, increase patient adherence to treatment, and improve health outcomes in low health literacy patient populations. Leveling barriers to treatment information for disadvantaged populations should be a public health imperative, especially if it can be shown to improve health outcomes and reduce health disparities.