Informed patients have better surgical outcomes, study finds

A new study emphasizes the importance of doctors educating patients about procedures, an effort that leads to better outcomes and greater satisfaction.

Doctors, however, need to do a better job as the study found that two-thirds of patients considering orthopedic surgery were not well informed, which results in unwanted treatments and poorer outcomes.

Researchers presented their findings (PDF) at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons earlier this month. "We tend to overestimate how much people understand about their disease and treatments," Karen Sepucha, Ph.D., director of the health decision sciences center at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, told Medscape.

The study examined the consequences of physicians and patients failing to collaborate on treatment decisions. Researchers asked 551 orthopedic patients to complete a survey about their preferred treatment options and a test to assess their understanding of their condition and available treatments. They followed up with a survey six months later to assess outcomes and quality of life.

Researchers said only 36% of patients met the criteria for an informed patient-centered decision. Informed patients were significantly more likely to report being extremely satisfied with their treatment. People who were informed and received their preferred treatment also tended to do better, although it wasn’t clear why patients who actively participated in treatment decisions had better outcomes. Sepucha speculated it could be they have more realistic expectations or are more motivated to follow through with their treatment.

Specialties are adopting programs to better inform patients. For instance, Medscape noted that Advocate Health Care in Chicago has used classes to educate orthopedic patients about treatments, but they are expensive to hold and some patients find it difficult to attend, according to John Cherf, M.D. The organization is now providing the course content in digital form.

Researchers and surgeons at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health Department of Surgery have developed a list of question prompts to better inform and engage with surgical patients.