The Son of Man, 1946. Artist: Magritte

“Uncertainty pervades the diagnostic process. In health care, taxonomies of uncertainty have been developed to describe aspects such as personal (eg, individual knowledge gaps), scientific (eg, limits of biomedical knowledge), and probabilistic (eg, imprecise estimates of risk or prognosis) dimensions of uncertainty.1

When clinicians encounter diagnostic uncertainty, they often find themselves in an unfamiliar situation, without a clear method to proceed confidently, comfortably, and safely. Being unable to explain to patients what causes their symptoms may be perceived as a failure for all involved. When clinicians and patients dwell in diagnostic uncertainty, it can trigger feelings of concern and anxiety, may lead patients to mistrust clinicians’ competence, and could contribute to clinician burnout (feeling exhausted, disconnected, and personally inadequate), especially for early-career clinicians.2,3

Excellent diagnosticians should understand how uncertainty manifests. They should acknowledge and embrace uncertainty, and openly discuss it with other clinicians and patients to normalize its ubiquitous and inevitable part in the diagnostic process.4 Such a reimagining, focused on the inevitable and beneficial aspects of diagnostic uncertainty, relies on identifying how uncertainty is understood, managed, and communicated.”

More on Understanding and Communicating Uncertainty in Achieving Diagnostic Excellence via JAMA.

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