Shared mind: communication, decision making, and autonomy in serious illness. Academic Article uri icon


  • In the context of serious illness, individuals usually rely on others to help them think and feel their way through difficult decisions. To help us to understand why, when, and how individuals involve trusted others in sharing information, deliberation, and decision making, we offer the concept of shared mind-ways in which new ideas and perspectives can emerge through the sharing of thoughts, feelings, perceptions, meanings, and intentions among 2 or more people. We consider how shared mind manifests in relationships and organizations in general, building on studies of collaborative cognition, attunement, and sensemaking. Then, we explore how shared mind might be promoted through communication, when appropriate, and the implications of shared mind for decision making and patient autonomy. Next, we consider a continuum of patient-centered approaches to patient-clinician interactions. At one end of the continuum, an interactional approach promotes knowing the patient as a person, tailoring information, constructing preferences, achieving consensus, and promoting relational autonomy. At the other end, a transactional approach focuses on knowledge about the patient, information-as-commodity, negotiation, consent, and individual autonomy. Finally, we propose that autonomy and decision making should consider not only the individual perspectives of patients, their families, and members of the health care team, but also the perspectives that emerge from the interactions among them. By drawing attention to shared mind, clinicians can observe in what ways they can promote it through bidirectional sharing of information and engaging in shared deliberation.

published proceedings

  • Ann Fam Med

altmetric score

  • 18.98

author list (cited authors)

  • Epstein, R. M., & Street, R. L.

citation count

  • 167

complete list of authors

  • Epstein, Ronald M||Street, Richard L

publication date

  • September 2011