Making the most informed decisions regarding their healthcare team and treatment is vital for new patients and their families. Shared decision making allows patients to have a say in their treatment methods while also allowing healthcare professionals to provide the best individualized treatment possible.

In the past, treatment decisions were decided by the healthcare team alone and modeled on one standard of care. Today, patients have the opportunity and resources to research and determine which treatment is best suited for them based on their values, goals, and concerns.

Education and shared decision making improves patient outcomes, allowing patients to better communicate with their healthcare team, understand their role, and empower them to advocate for themselves. 

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The Importance of Doctor-Patient Communication

A patient’s relationship with their medical team can drastically impact how they take on challenges related to their care. Open, effective, and knowledgeable communication between the patient and medical team before and during the treatment process is essential for both parties.

Overwhelming feelings of fear and anxiety are a common challenge for patients when meeting with a new medical team. These feelings can impact their ability to fully understand their medical team’s treatment explanations and preclude them from asking clarifying questions. If the patient doesn’t understand the scope of their treatment, they cannot be a fully collaborative partner. These potential obstacles are why collaborative communication, conflict management, and empathy are crucial to the doctor-patient relationship.1

The treatment team benefits from making educational tools and resources accessible to patients and allowing them the opportunity to research their diagnosis and treatment because it leads patients to be more receptive to the information the team provides.2 As a result, the patient also benefits as doctors are more likely to provide additional information to high-participation patients.3 Giving patients access to all treatment options and allowing them time to process their diagnosis can help them better understand how to best move forward. 

Some tips that can be beneficial in improving patient-doctor communication include:

  • Education Make sure patients understand their diagnosis and treatment options; provide educational and credible resources on diagnosis, types of treatment, and potential side effects; check in often with patients on their level of understanding.
  • Responsiveness Make sure patients are aware of whom to contact and how when questions arise. Is there a portal or best way for a patient to contact healthcare professionals online?
  • Support Provide psychosocial/financial resources for additional support, if possible; understand barriers to care; offer resources such as CancerCare and the American Cancer Society.
  • Cultural competence Respect patients’ cultural beliefs and limitations.

Ways Patients Can Advocate for Themselves 

More patients than ever are becoming active participants in how they receive care. The National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship breaks down self-advocacy into multiple parts including information seeking skills, communication, problem-solving, and negotiation.4 Because nobody knows a patient better than themselves, allowing patients a voice in their care can change their outlook on their treatment journey. By creating a collaborative environment, patients are encouraged to ask cultivated questions to fully understand their treatment.

To provide the most patient-centered care, the healthcare team must consider a patient’s values, concerns, and goals throughout treatment. Skills such as empathy and communication allow the patient to feel understood and cared for, enhancing doctor-patient relationships and improving overall care. Inviting patients to participate can help empower them to advocate for themselves and their needs. In doing this, patients can make better-informed decisions for their care while establishing trust with their medical team. 

 Self-advocacy can include: 

  • Identifying and reiterating their values, goals, preferences, and concerns. 
  • Researching and asking educated questions on diagnosis and different types of treatment. 
  • Questioning options to their care, including the medical team. 

Benefits to Shared Decision Making

Shared decision making within healthcare treatment improves overall satisfaction for both patients and clinicians, improves communication efficiency, and reduces the cost of healthcare while improving patient outcomes.5 Research shows that shared decision-making not only increases patient and physician satisfaction throughout treatment but also increases the overall quality of life after care ends.5 Allowing patients the space to voice their concerns helps them better understand the risks and potential outcomes of treatment while increasing the likelihood of their making and keeping their appointments.6 Those who feel more empowered to make decisions regarding their healthcare may experience decreased anxiety as they are involved, informed, and confident about their care plan. 


  1. Ha JF, Longnecker N. Doctor-patient communication: a review. Ochsner J. 2010;10(1):38-43.
  2. Diefenbach M, Turner G, Carpenter KM, et al. Cancer and patient-physician communicationJ Health Commun. 2009;14 Suppl 1(Suppl 1):57-65. doi:10.1080/10810730902814079
  3. Cegala DJ, Street RL Jr, Clinch CR. The impact of patient participation on physicians’ information provision during a primary care medical interview. Health Commun. 2007;21(2):177-185. doi:10.1080/10410230701307824
  4. National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship. Self Advocacy: A Cancer Survivor’s Handbook. Silver Spring, MD: National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship (NCCS); 2009. Accessed February 24, 2022. 
  5. Staren D. The consumer benefits of patient shared decision making. Healthcare Value Hub; 2019. Research Brief No 37. Accessed February 24, 2022.
  6. National Learning Consortium. Shared Decision Making.; 2013. Accessed February 24, 2022.