Shared Decision-Making in Acute Surgical Illness: The Surgeon's Perspective


      Surgical patients increasingly have more comorbidities and are of an older age, complicating surgical decision-making in emergent situations. Little is known about surgeons' perceptions of shared decision-making in these settings.

      Study Design

      Twenty semi-structured interviews were conducted with practicing surgeons at 2 large academic medical centers. Thirteen questions and 2 case vignettes were used to assess perceptions of decision-making, considerations when deciding whether to offer to operate, and communication patterns with patients and families.


      Thematic analysis revealed 6 major themes: responsibility for the decision to operate, perceived futility, surgeon judgment, surgeon introspection, pressure to operate, and costs of the operation. Perceived futility was universally considered a contraindication to surgical intervention. However, the challenge of defining futility led participants to emphasize the importance of patients' self-determined risk-to-benefit analysis when considering surgical intervention. More experienced surgeons reported greater comfort with communicating to patients that a condition was not amenable to an operation and reserved the right to refuse to operate.


      Due to external pressures and uncertainty, some providers err on the side of operative intervention, despite suspected futility. Greater experience allows surgeons to withstand external pressures, be confident in their assessments of perceived futility, and guide patients and their families away from additional interventions.
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      Linked Article

      • Surgical Decision-Making—With Whom Is it Shared?
        Journal of the American College of SurgeonsVol. 227Issue 4
        • In Brief
          The recently published article “Shared Decision-Making in Acute Illness: The Surgeon's Perspective,” by Morris and colleagues,1 explored surgeons' perceptions of surgical decision-making related to end-of-life care. The authors found that surgeons tended to err on the side of continued care and prolonging life, even in the setting of surgeon-perceived non-beneficial treatment.
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