Expressing uncertainty in clinical interactions between physicians and older patients: what matters?

Journal Article

By: M.; Stults Tai-Seale, C.; Zhang, W.; Shumway, M.
Publication Name: Patient Educ Couns
Year: 2012

OBJECTIVE: Uncertainty is one key factor influencing physician and patient behavior. We examined the propensity to express uncertainty on mental health versus biomedical issues by elderly patients (>65 years) and physicians during primary care visits. METHODS: 385 videotaped visits were coded according to ""topics,"" which are issues raised by any participant during the visit. This approach allowed us to examine if uncertainty was expressed in biomedical, mental health or other topics, and the factors associated with expressions of uncertainty. RESULTS: We found that patients expressed uncertainty in 20.21% of topics compared to physicians expressing uncertainty in 11.73% of topics discussed in all visits. Patients expressed uncertainty in 22% of biomedical and 46.5% (p<0.01) of mental health topics. Similar statistics were found in physicians' expression of uncertainty with more uncertainty being expressed with mental health topics (23.9%) than biomedical topics (12.56%, p<0.05). CONCLUSION: Patients expressed more uncertainties than physicians during visits. Patients and physicians both expressed more uncertainties on mental health topics suggesting that patients and primary care physicians felt less knowledgeable or less confident about dealing with mental health issues. PRACTICE IMPLICATIONS: Understanding the inherent uncertainties in medicine can help physicians and patients engage in more productive discussion about both biomedical and mental health topics.

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