Physician uncertainty and the art of persuasion


Physician uncertainty and the art of persuasion


Rizzo JA


Social Science & Medicine




Humans; Clinical Competence; Decision Support Techniques; decision making; Persuasive Communication; Physicians/psychology


Incomplete information is a chronic feature of medica markets. Much attention has focused on information asymmetries between physicians and their patients. In contrast, physician uncertainty has received far less attention. This is a significant omission. Physician uncertainty may be an even more important reason than consumer uncertainty for the high cost of health care. This paper reviews and evaluates major approaches for managing physician uncertainty. We argue that quantitative approaches alone, such as scientific advancement and the application of decision analysis to clinical reasoning, are insufficient for dealing with uncertainty. Qualitative approaches, such as forging consensus through expert panels, and teaching physicians to accept and cope with uncertainty, will play a valuable role in promoting more effective clinical decision-making under conditions of uncertainty. The current tensions between those who would eradicate physician uncertainty through quantitative approaches and those who favor qualitative methods has parallels in many other fields, including economics and mathematics. These tensions are unfortunate, since the most promising initiative to promote better clinical decision-making will likely need to draw upon both approaches. The recent initiative to implement medical practice guidelines is one example of a broad-based approach to improve clinical decision-making. Guidelines draw upon available scientific evidence, but typically involve consensus-building as well. They seek to persuade and educate physicians about appropriate treatments, without mandating changes in physician treatment patterns. Given the persistent uncertainties physicians will undoubtedly confront regarding appropriate clinical decision-making, this flexible approach may be the best way to mitigate market failures resulting from inappropriate clinical decisions.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)


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Rizzo JA, “Physician uncertainty and the art of persuasion,” Pediatric Palliative Care Library, accessed November 30, 2023,