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Information and participation in decision-making about treatment: a qualitative study of the perceptions and preferences of patients with rheumatoid arthritis

Abstract

Objectives: To elicit the perceptions and preferences of patients with rheumatoid arthritis regarding information and participation in treatment decision-making. To analyse the patients’ narratives on the background of the ethical discourse on various approaches to treatment decision-making.

Design: In-depth interviews with themes identified using principles of grounded theory.

Participants: 22 patients with long-standing rheumatoid arthritis.

Main outcome measures: Qualitative data on patients’ perceptions and preferences regarding information and participation in decision-making about treatment.

Results: Decision-making about treatment has been described by the patients as a process consisting of different stages with shifting loci of control and responsibility. Patients initially received one treatment recommendation and were not aware of alternative treatment options. Those participants in this study who wanted information about negative effects of a treatment cited “interest in one’s own health” and the potential “use of information” as reasons for their preference. The physicians’ expert knowledge and clinical experience regarding the effects of medication were cited as arguments by patients for a treatment recommendation.

Conclusions: The patients’ accounts of decision-making about treatment differ from models of physician–patient relationship that have been put forward in ethical discourse. These differences may be relevant with respect to the starting point of an ethical analysis of treatment decision-making. Patients’ accounts with respect to a lack of information on treatment alternatives point to ethically relevant challenges regarding treatment decision-making in clinical practice.

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