A review of decision support, risk communication and patient information tools for thrombolytic treatment in acute stroke: lessons for tool developers

Darren Flynn*, Gary A. Ford, Lynne Stobbart, Helen Rodgers, Madeleine J. Murtagh, Richard G. Thomson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Tools to support clinical or patient decision-making in the treatment/management of a health condition are used in a range of clinical settings for numerous preference-sensitive healthcare decisions. Their impact in clinical practice is largely dependent on their quality across a range of domains. We critically analysed currently available tools to support decision making or patient understanding in the treatment of acute ischaemic stroke with intravenous thrombolysis, as an exemplar to provide clinicians/researchers with practical guidance on development, evaluation and implementation of such tools for other preference-sensitive treatment options/decisions in different clinical contexts.

METHODS: Tools were identified from bibliographic databases, Internet searches and a survey of UK and North American stroke networks. Two reviewers critically analysed tools to establish: information on benefits/risks of thrombolysis included in tools, and the methods used to convey probabilistic information (verbal descriptors, numerical and graphical); adherence to guidance on presenting outcome probabilities (IPDASi probabilities items) and information content (Picker Institute Checklist); readability (Fog Index); and the extent that tools had comprehensive development processes.

RESULTS: Nine tools of 26 identified included information on a full range of benefits/risks of thrombolysis. Verbal descriptors, frequencies and percentages were used to convey probabilistic information in 20, 19 and 18 tools respectively, whilst nine used graphical methods. Shortcomings in presentation of outcome probabilities (e.g. omitting outcomes without treatment) were identified. Patient information tools had an aggregate median Fog index score of 10. None of the tools had comprehensive development processes.

CONCLUSIONS: Tools to support decision making or patient understanding in the treatment of acute stroke with thrombolysis have been sub-optimally developed. Development of tools should utilise mixed methods and strategies to meaningfully involve clinicians, patients and their relatives in an iterative design process; include evidence-based methods to augment interpretability of textual and probabilistic information (e.g. graphical displays showing natural frequencies) on the full range of outcome states associated with available options; and address patients with different levels of health literacy. Implementation of tools will be enhanced when mechanisms are in place to periodically assess the relevance of tools and where necessary, update the mode of delivery, form and information content.

Original languageEnglish
Article number225
Pages (from-to)225
Number of pages13
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jun 2013


  • Decision support
  • Decision aids
  • Patient information
  • Shared decision making
  • Risk communication
  • Thrombolysis
  • Acute stroke

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