As millions begin using health insurance coverage for the first time, Americans are becoming more educated and involved in their medical care. Much of this is the result of extensive news coverage surrounding the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and new health insurance choices. Citizens are also finding themselves more empowered by the amount of information available about illness and treatment options.

Consumers Demand Information and Control

We are far removed from the generations that simply accepted an authority figure’s answer as being the full truth in any area of life. Americans are increasingly asking more questions, getting additional opinions, and gaining the education needed to make their own decisions. This is especially true when it comes to medicine and health care.

The internet has been a boon of information for curious and nervous consumers, but it can unfortunately contain a great deal of misinformation, as well. Many dishonest hucksters try to draw clicks and website visits with titles like “What Your Doctor Doesn’t Want You to Know” (for example), causing Americans to feel as if their doctor may not have their best interest at heart. On the other side, many reputable hospitals and non-profit entities focused on the health care sector provide more reliable information.

What many patients need to realize, however, is that even in this era of information-on-demand, they need to see their doctor for a specific application of the knowledge to their situation. Browsing symptoms online can make you think you have anything from a simple virus to fatal cancer – but only a trained doctor can talk through your symptoms with you and run tests to help give you a real diagnosis.

Shared Decision-Making as a Solution

Patients definitely deserve to understand their situation and make decisions about treatment, but they need a medical professional to help them get the right picture about what’s going on. In some cases, patients and physicians can work together to determine a course of treatment in a process called shared decision-making.

Shared decision-making is a term that describes the process of a medical professional and patient sharing information about diagnosis and treatment options. Shared decision-making may be used when a medical condition has more than one potential course of treatment. Health care providers and patients work together to find a treatment plan that meets the patient’s needs and matches with their priorities and values. In this way, the patient is fully empowered to understand their situation and decide next steps.

This can be especially helpful for patients who are facing a serious medical crisis, or who have just received a devastating diagnosis. Often, they are emotionally rattled and don’t fully understand the variety of options they have. In shared decision-making, the doctor explains their options and the ramifications, and allows them to talk through their fears and concerns before a decision is reached.

In the past, the doctor would simply tell you what to do if you were ill, or would strongly suggest a course of action while barely mentioning other options. However, in today’s consumer-drive world, many patients are demanding to know more and make their own decisions. Physicians also want patients to be informed about their options and feel empowered by their decision. Through shared decision-making, patients are able to become educated, physicians learn about the patient’s preferences, and, together, they make the best decisions available for the situation.

To learn how to communicate with your doctor to help keep your health care costs low, read Questions to Ask Your Doctor.