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The Connection Between Evidence-Based Medicine and Shared Decision Making

Evidence-based medicine (EBM) and shared decision making (SDM) are both essential to quality health care, yet the interdependence between these 2 approaches is not generally appreciated. Evidence-based medicine should begin and end with the patient: after finding and appraising the evidence and integrating its infer- ences with their expertise, clinicians attempt a deci- sion that reflects their patient’s values and circum- stances. Incorporating patient values, preferences, and circumstances is probably the most difficult and poorly mapped step—yet it receives the least attention.1 This has led to a common criticism that EBM ignores patients’ values and preferences—explicitly not its intention.2

Shared decision making is the process of clinician and patient jointly participating in a health decision af- ter discussing the options, the benefits and harms, and considering the patient’s values, preferences, and cir- cumstances. It is the intersection of patient-centered communication skills and EBM, in the pinnacle of good patient care (Figure).

One Without the Other? These approaches, for the most part, have evolved in parallel, yet neither can achieve its aim without the other. Without SDM, authentic EBM cannot occur.3 It is a mechanism by which evidence can be explicitly brought into the consultation and discussed with the patient. Even if clinicians attempt to incorporate patient prefer- ences into decisions, they sometimes erroneously guess them. However, it is through evidence-informed

deliberations that patients construct informed prefer- ences. For patients who have to implement the deci- sion and live with the consequences, it may be more per- tinent to realize that it is through this process that patients incorporate the evidence and expertise of the clinician, along with their values and preferences, into their decision-making. Without SDM, EBM can turn into evidence tyranny. Without SDM, evidence may poorly translate into practice and improved outcomes.

Likewise, without attention to the principles of EBM, SDM becomes limited because a number of its steps are inextricably linked to the evidence. For example, discus- sions with patients about the natural history of the con- dition, the possible options, the benefits and harms of each, and a quantification of these must be informed by

the best available research evidence. If SDM does not in- corporate this body of evidence, the preferences that pa- tients express may not be based on reliable estimates of the risks and benefits of the options, and the result- ing decisions not truly informed.

Why Is There a Disconnect? A contributor to the existing disconnect between EBM and SDM may be that leaders, researchers, and teach- ers of EBM, and those of SDM, originated from, and his- torically tended to practice, research, publish, and col- laborate, in different clusters. Some forms of SDM have emerged from patient communication, with much of its research presented in conferences and journals in this field. A seminal paper in 19974 conceptualized SDM as a model of treatment decision making and as a patient- clinician communication skill. However, it did so with- out any connection to EBM—perhaps not surprisingly, be- cause EBM was in its infancy.2

Conversely, with its origins in clinical epidemiology, much of the focus of EBM has been on methods and resources to facilitate locating, appraising, and synthe- sizing evidence. There has been much less focus on dis- cussing this evidence with patients and engaging with them in its use (sometimes even disparagingly referred to as “soft” skills). Most of the EBM attention has involved scandals (eg, unpublished data, results “spin,” conflicts of interest) and the high technology mile- stones (eg, systems to make EBM better and easier). Information about using evidence in decision-making with patients has been scant.

Disconnect between the 2 ap- proaches is also evident in, and main- tained by, the teaching provided to clinicians and students, again often reflecting the backgrounds of their teachers. Opportunities to attend EBM teaching abound with content largely

focused on forming questions and finding and criti- cally appraising evidence.5 Learning how to apply and integrate the evidence is usually absent, or mentioned in passing without skill training.

Realizing the Connection Between EBM and SDM A logical place to start is by incorporating SDM skill train- ing into EBM training. This will help to address not only the aforementioned deficits in EBM training but also the lack of SDM training opportunities presently available. Additionally, it may facilitate the uptake of SDM and, more broadly, evidence translation. Recent calls for SDM to be routinely incorporated into medical education pre- sent an immediate opportunity to capitalize on closely aligning the approaches.

Without shared decision making, EBM can turn into evidence tyranny.


Tammy C. Hoffmann, PhD Centre for Research in Evidence-Based Practice, Faculty of Health Sciences and Medicine, Bond University, Queensland, Australia; and University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia.

Victor M. Montori, MD, MSc Knowledge and Evaluation Research (KER) Unit, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota.

Chris Del Mar, MD, FRACGP Centre for Research in Evidence-Based Practice, Faculty of Health Sciences and Medicine, Bond University, Queensland, Australia.

Viewpoint page 1293

Corresponding Author: Victor M. Montori, MD, MSc, Knowledge and Evaluation Research Unit, Mayo Clinic, 200 First St SW, Plummer 3-35, Rochester, MN 55905 (montori.victor

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Another place to start to bring EBM and SDM together is the development and implementation of clinical practice guidelines. Whereas most guidelines fail to consider patients’ preferences in formulating their recommendations,6 some advise clinicians to talk with patients about the options but provide no guidance about how to do this and communicate the evidence in a way patients will understand. Shared decision making may be strongly

recommended in guidelines when the options are closely matched in their advantages and disadvantages, when uncer- tainty in the evidence impairs determination of a clearly superior approach, or when the balance of benefits and risks depends on patient action, such as adherence to medication, monitoring, and diet in patients using warfarin.

Conclusions Links between EBM and SDM have until recently been largely ab- sent or at best implied. However, encouraging signs of interaction are emerging. For example, there has been some integration of the teaching of both,7 exploration about how guidelines can be adapted to facilitate SDM,8,9 and research and resource tools that recog- nize both approaches. Examples of the latter include research agenda and priority setting occurring in partnership with patients and cli- nicians to help provide relevant evidence for decision making; and a new evidence criterion for the International Patient Decision Aids Standards requiring citation of systematically assembled and up- to-date bodies of evidence, with their trustworthiness appraised,10

thus aligning the development of SDM tools with contemporary re- quirements for the formulation of evidence-based guidelines. Also, independent flagship conferences focused on the practice of evi- dence-based health care and on the science of shared decision mak- ing are now convening joint meetings.

Medicine cannot, and should not, be practiced without up-to- date evidence. Nor can medicine be practiced without knowing and respecting the informed preferences of patients. Clinicians, researchers, teachers, and patients need to be aware of and actively facilitate the interdependent relationship of these approaches. Evidence-based medicine needs SDM, and SDM needs EBM. Patients need both.


Conflict of Interest Disclosures: All authors have completed and submitted the ICMJE Form for Disclosure of Potential Conflicts of Interest. Dr Montori reported serving on the board of the International Society for Evidence-based Healthcare; serving as Chair of the Seventh International Shared Decision Making Conference in 2013; that he is a member of the Steering Committee of the International Patient Decision Aids Standards; and that he is a member of the GRADE Working Group. The KER Unit (Dr Montori’s research group) produces and tests evidence-based shared decision making tools that are freely available at Dr Hoffmann reported that she is supported by a National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia (NHMRC)/Primary Health Care Research Evaluation and Development Career Development Fellowship (1033038), with funding provided by the Australian Department of Health and Ageing. Drs Hoffmann and Del Mar reported that they are coeditors of a book on evidence-based practice, for which they receive royalties.

Additional Information: Additional information abut evidence-based medicine and shared decision making is available online in Evidence-Based Medicine: An Oral History at http://ebm


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7. Hoffmann TC, Bennett S, Tomsett C, Del Mar C. Brief training of student clinicians in shared decision making: a single-blind randomized controlled trial. J Gen Intern Med. 2014;29(6):844-849.

8. Decision Aids. MAGIC website. http://www Accessed July 24, 2014.

9. van der Weijden T, Pieterse AH, Koelewijn-van Loon MS, et al. How can clinical practice guidelines be adapted to facilitate shared decision making? a qualitative key-informant study. BMJ Qual Saf. 2013;22(10):855-863.

10. Montori VM, LeBlanc A, Buchholz A, Stilwell DL, Tsapas A. Basing information on comprehensive, critically appraised, and up-to-date syntheses of the scientific evidence: a quality dimension of the International Patient Decision Aid Standards. BMC Med Inform Decis Mak. 2013;13 (suppl 2):S5.

Figure. The Interdependence of Evidence-Based Medicine and Shared Decision Making and the Need for Both as Part of Optimal Care

Evidence-based medicine

Optimal patient care

Patient-centered communication skills

Shared decision making

Opinion Viewpoint

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