The nature of medical evidence and its inherent uncertainty for the clinical consultation: qualitative study

Centre for Primary Health Care Studies, University of Warwick, Coventry CV4 7AL.
BMJ (online) (Impact Factor: 16.38). 04/2005; 330(7490):511. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.38336.482720.8F
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT To describe how clinicians deal with the uncertainty inherent in medical evidence in clinical consultations.
Qualitative study.
Clinical consultations related to hormone replacement therapy, bone densitometry, and breast screening in seven general practices and three secondary care clinics in the UK NHS.
Women aged 45-64.
45 of the 109 relevant consultations included sufficient discussion for analysis. The consultations could be categorised into three groups: focus on certainty for now and this test, with slippage into general reassurance; a coherent account of the medical evidence for risks and benefits, but blurring of the uncertainty inherent in the evidence and giving an impression of certainty; and acknowledging the inherent uncertainty of the medical evidence and negotiating a provisional decision.
Strategies health professionals use to cope with the uncertainty inherent in medical evidence in clinical consultations include the use of provisional decisions that allow for changing priorities and circumstances over time, to avoid slippage into general reassurance from a particular test result, and to avoid the creation of a myth of certainty.

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