Clinical decision-making in the context of chronic illness
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This paper develops a framework to compare clinical decision making in relation to chronic and acute medical conditions. Much of the literature on patient-physician decision making has focused on acute and often life-threatening medical situations in which the patient is highly dependent upon the expertise of the physician in providing the therapeutic options. Decision making is often constrained and driven by the overwhelming impact of the acute medical problem on all aspects of the individual's life. With chronic conditions, patients are increasingly knowledgeable, not only about their medical conditions, but also about traditional, complementary, and alternative therapeutic options. They must make multiple and repetitive decisions, with variable outcomes, about how they will live with their chronic condition. Consequently, they often know more than attending treatment personnel about their own situations, including symptoms, responses to previous treatment, and lifestyle preferences. This paper compares the nature of the illness, the characteristics of the decisions themselves, the role of the patient, the decision-making relationship, and the decision-making environment in acute and chronic illnesses. The author argues for a different understanding of the decision-making relationships and processes characteristic in chronic conditions that take into account the role of trade-offs between medical regimens and lifestyle choices in shaping both the process and outcomes of clinical decision-making. The paper addresses the concerns of a range of professional providers and consumers.
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