The role (or not) of economic evaluation at the micro level: Can Bourdieu's theory provide a way forward for clinical decision-making?

Department of Health Administration, School of Public Health, Faculty of Medicine, University of Montreal, CP 6128, Succursale Centre-Ville, Montreal, Quebec, Canada H3C 3J7.
Social Science [?] Medicine (Impact Factor: 2.89). 03/2010; 70(12):1948-56. DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2010.03.013
Source: PubMed


Despite increasing interest in health economic evaluation, investigations have shown limited use by micro (clinical) level decision-makers. A considerable amount of health decisions take place daily at the point of the clinical encounter; especially in primary care. Since every decision has an opportunity cost, ignoring economic information in family physicians' (FPs) decision-making may have a broad impact on health care efficiency. Knowledge translation of economic evaluation is often based on taken-for-granted assumptions about actors' interests and interactions, neglecting much of the complexity of social reality. Health economics literature frequently assumes a rational and linear decision-making process. Clinical decision-making is in fact a complex social, dynamic, multifaceted process, involving relationships and contextual embeddedness. FPs are embedded in complex social networks that have a significant impact on skills, attitudes, knowledge, practices, and on the information being used. Because of their socially constructed nature, understanding preferences, professional culture, practices, and knowledge translation requires serious attention to social reality. There has been little exploration by health economists of whether the problem may be more fundamental and reside in a misunderstanding of the process of decision-making. There is a need to enhance our understanding of the role of economic evaluation in decision-making from a disciplinary perspective different than health economics. This paper argues for a different conceptualization of the role of economic evaluation in FPs' decision-making, and proposes Bourdieu's sociological theory as a research framework. Bourdieu's theory of practice illustrates how the context-sensitive nature of practice must be understood as a socially constituted practical knowledge. The proposed approach could substantially contribute to a more complex understanding of the role of economic evaluation in FPs' decision-making.

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