Physician-identified barriers to and facilitators of shared decision-making in the Emergency Department: an exploratory analysis

Author Department

Healthcare Quality; Emergency Medicine

Document Type

Article, Peer-reviewed

Publication Date




Shared decision-making (SDM) is receiving increasing attention in emergency medicine because of its potential to increase patient engagement and decrease unnecessary healthcare utilisation. This study sought to explore physician-identified barriers to and facilitators of SDM in the ED.


We conducted semistructured interviews with practising emergency physicians (EP) with the aim of understanding when and why EPs engage in SDM, and when and why they feel unable to engage in SDM. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and a three-member team coded all transcripts in an iterative fashion using a directed approach to qualitative content analysis. We identified emergent themes, and organised themes based on an integrative theoretical model that combined the theory of planned behaviour and social cognitive theory.


Fifteen EPs practising in the New England region of the USA were interviewed. Physicians described the following barriers: time constraints, clinical uncertainty, fear of a bad outcome, certain patient characteristics, lack of follow-up and other emotional and logistical stressors. They noted that risk stratification methods, the perception that SDM decreased liability and their own improving clinical skills facilitated their use of SDM. They also noted that the culture of the institution could play a role in discouraging or promoting SDM, and that patients could encourage SDM by specifically asking about alternatives.


EPs face many barriers to using SDM. Some, such as lack of follow-up, are unique to the ED; others, such as the challenges of communicating uncertainty, may affect other providers. Many of the barriers to SDM are amenable to intervention, but may be of variable importance in different EDs. Further research should attempt to identify which barriers are most prevalent and most amenable to intervention, as well as capitalise on the facilitators noted.