When the business of sharing treatment decisions is not the same as shared decision making: A discourse analysis of decision sharing in general practice

Maggie Robertson, Jim Moir, John Skelton, Jon Dowell, Sue Cowan

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    30 Citations (Scopus)


    Although shared decision making (SDM) in general practice continues to be promoted as a highly desirable means of conducting consultations it is rarely observed in practice. The aim of this study is to identify the discursive features and conversational strategies particular to the negotiation and sharing of treatment decisions in order to understand why SDM is not yet embedded into routine practice. Consultations from Scottish general practices were examined using discourse analysis. Two themes were identified as key components for when the doctor and the patient were intent on sharing decisions: the generation of patient involvement using first-person pronouns, and successful and unsuccessful patient requesting practices. This article identifies a number of conversational activities found to be successful in supporting doctors' agendas and reducing their responsibility for decisions made. Doctor's use of 'partnership talk' was found to minimize resistance and worked to invite consensus rather than involvement. The information from this study provides new insight into the consultation process by identifying how treatment decisions are arrived at through highlighting the complexities involved. Notably, shared decision making does not happen with the ease implied by current models and appears to work to maintain a biomedical 'GP as expert' approach rather than one in which the patient is truly involved in partnership. We suggest that further research on the impact of conversational activities is likely to benefit our understanding of shared decision making and hence training in and the practice of SDM.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)78-95
    Number of pages18
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 2011


    • discourse analysis
    • MODEL
    • doctor-patient interaction
    • health care communication
    • general practice
    • shared decision making

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