Understanding how and under what circumstances decision coaching works for people making healthcare decisions: a realist review

Junqiang Zhao, Janet Jull, Jeanette Finderup, Maureen Smith, Simone Maria Kienlin, Anne Christin Rahn, Sandra Dunn, Yumi Aoki, Leanne Brown, Gillian Harvey, Dawn Stacey


BACKGROUND: Decision coaching is non-directive support delivered by a trained healthcare provider to help people prepare to actively participate in making healthcare decisions. This study aimed to understand how and under what circumstances decision coaching works for people making healthcare decisions.

METHODS: We followed the realist review methodology for this study. This study was built on a Cochrane systematic review of the effectiveness of decision coaching interventions for people facing healthcare decisions. It involved six iterative steps: (1) develop the initial program theory; (2) search for evidence; (3) select, appraise, and prioritize studies; (4) extract and organize data; (5) synthesize evidence; and (6) consult stakeholders and draw conclusions.

RESULTS: We developed an initial program theory based on decision coaching theories and stakeholder feedback. Of the 2594 citations screened, we prioritized 27 papers for synthesis based on their relevance rating. To refine the program theory, we identified 12 context-mechanism-outcome (CMO) configurations. Essential mechanisms for decision coaching to be initiated include decision coaches', patients', and clinicians' commitments to patients' involvement in decision making and decision coaches' knowledge and skills (four CMOs). CMOs during decision coaching are related to the patient (i.e., willing to confide, perceiving their decisional needs are recognized, acquiring knowledge, feeling supported), and the patient-decision coach interaction (i.e., exchanging information, sharing a common understanding of patient's values) (five CMOs). After decision coaching, the patient's progress in making or implementing a values-based preferred decision can be facilitated by the decision coach's advocacy for the patient, and the patient's deliberation upon options (two CMOs). Leadership support enables decision coaches to have access to essential resources to fulfill their role (one CMOs).

DISCUSSION: In the refined program theory, decision coaching works when there is strong leadership support and commitment from decision coaches, clinicians, and patients. Decision coaches need to be capable in coaching, encourage patients' participation, build a trusting relationship with patients, and act as a liaison between patients and clinicians to facilitate patients' progress in making or implementing an informed values-based preferred option. More empirical studies, especially qualitative and process evaluation studies, are needed to further refine the program theory.

Original languageEnglish
Article number265
JournalBMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)265
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 12.2022

Research Areas and Centers

  • Research Area: Center for Population Medicine and Public Health (ZBV)


Dive into the research topics of 'Understanding how and under what circumstances decision coaching works for people making healthcare decisions: a realist review'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this