Unstated factors in orthopaedic decision-making: a qualitative studyGooberman-Hill, R., Sansom, A., Sanders, C.M. et al.
Total joint replacement (TJR) of the hip or knee for osteoarthritis is among the most common elective surgical procedures. There is some inequity in provision of TJR. How decisions are made about who will have surgery may contribute to disparities in provision. The model of shared decision-making between patients and clinicians is advocated as an ideal by national bodies and guidelines. However, we do not know what happens within orthopaedic practice and whether this reflects the shared model. Our study examined how decisions are made about TJR in orthopaedic consultations.
The study used a qualitative research design comprising semi-structured interviews and observations. Participants were recruited from three hospital sites and provided their time free of charge. Seven clinicians involved in decision-making about TJR were approached to take part in the study, and six agreed to do so. Seventy-seven patients due to see these clinicians about TJR were approached to take part and 26 agreed to do so. The patients’ outpatient appointments (’consultations’) were observed and audio-recorded. Subsequent interviews with patients and clinicians examined decisions that were made at the appointments. Data were analysed using thematic analysis.
Clinical and lifestyle factors were central components of the decision-making process. In addition, the roles that patients assigned to clinicians were key, as were communication styles. Patients saw clinicians as occupying expert roles and they deferred to clinicians’ expertise. There was evidence that patients modified their behaviour within consultations to complement that of clinicians. Clinicians acknowledged the complexity of decision-making and provided descriptions of their own decision-making and communication styles. Patients and clinicians were aware of the use of clinical and lifestyle factors in decision-making and agreed in their description of clinicians’ styles. Decisions were usually reached during consultations, but patients and clinicians sometimes said that treatment decisions had been made beforehand. Some patients expressed surprise about the decisions made in their consultations, but this did not necessarily imply dissatisfaction.
The way in which roles and communication are played out in decision-making for TJR may affect the opportunity for shared decisions. This may contribute to variation in the provision of TJR. Making the importance of these factors explicit and highlighting the existence of patients’ ’surprise’ about consultation outcomes could empower patients within the decision-making process and enhance communication in orthopaedic consultations.