Physician clinical management strategies and reasoning: a cross-sectional survey using clinical vignettes of eight common medical admissions

Publication Date

January 2014

Journal Title

Bmc Health Services Research


Background: Physicians often select clinical management strategies not strongly supported by evidence or guidelines. Our objective was to examine the likelihood of selecting, and rationale for pursuing, clinical management strategies with more or less guideline support among physicians using clinical vignettes of eight common medical admissions. Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional survey using clinical vignettes of attending physicians and housestaff at one internal medicine program in New York City. Each clinical vignette included a brief clinical scenario and a varying number of clinical management strategies: diagnostic tests, consultations, and treatments, some of which had strong evidence or guideline support (Level 1 strategies) while others had limited evidence or guideline support (Level 3 strategies). Likelihood of selecting a given management strategy was assessed using Likert scales and multiple response options were used to indicate rationale(s) for selections. Results: Our sample included 79 physicians; 68 (86%) were younger than 40 years of age, 34 (43%) were female. There were 31 attending physicians (39%) and 48 housestaff (61%) and 39 (49%) had or planned to have primarily primary care internal medicine clinical responsibilities. Overall, physicians were more likely to select Level 1 strategies "always" or "most of the time" when compared with Level 3 strategies (82% vs. 43%; p <0.001), with wide variation across the eight medical admissions. There were no differences between attending and housestaff physician likelihood of selecting Level 3 strategies (47% vs. 45%, p = 0.36). Supportive evidence and local practice patterns were the two most common rationales behind selections; supportive evidence was cited as the most common rationale for selecting Level 1 when compared with Level 3 strategies (63% versus 30%; p < 0.001), whereas ruling out other severe conditions was cited most often for Level 3 strategies. Conclusions: For eight common medical admissions, physicians selected more than 80% of management strategies with strong evidence or guideline support, but also selected more than 40% of strategies for which there was limited evidence or guideline support. The promotion of evidence-based care, including the avoidance of care that is not strongly supported by evidence or guidelines, may require better evidence dissemination and educational outreach to physicians.

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School of Medicine

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