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

By Frances Griffiths, Eillen Green and Maria Tsouroufli


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

Topics: R1
Publisher: BMJ Group
Year: 2005
OAI identifier:

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