Beyond rationality: Expanding the practice of shared decision making in modern medicine

Elizabeth C. Thomas, Sarah Bauerle Bass, Laura A. Siminoff

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


The contemporary healthcare field operates according to an autonomy model of medical decision-making. This model stipulates that patients have the right to make informed choices about their care. Shared decision making (SDM) has arisen as the dominant approach for clinicians and patients to collaborate in care planning and implementation. This approach relies heavily on normative (rational) decision-making processes, and often leaves out descriptive influences that stem from personal, social, and environmental factors and explain how decisions are typically made in the real world. The lack of attention to descriptive decision-making limits SDM in many ways. A multi-level approach to expanding the practice of SDM is proposed, including tailoring the decision encounter based on patients’ social, cultural, and environmental context; using relational elements strategically as part of the SDM process; and modifying incentive models to promote greater attention to descriptive impacts on decision-making. These modifications are expected to make SDM, and thus patient care, more inclusive, effective, and acceptable to diverse patients.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113900
Pages (from-to)113900
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - May 2021


  • Descriptive decision-making
  • Medical decision making
  • Normative decision-making
  • Patient-centered care


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