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On patient judgement

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Clinical judgement, the keystone of medical expertise, is a hot topic. By contrast, patient judgement, also of central importance in health care, receives little attention. Patients have the last say concerning whether or not they seek medical treatment for symptoms, follow a doctor’s advice or accept reassurance. Delay in seeking help for serious symptoms, non-compliance with treatment advice and failure of doctors to reassure many of the ‘worried well’ have long been recognized as serious problems. We argue that what is common to these important problems is patient judgement. Surveys yielding information about the average influence of a large number of individual variables do not do justice to the complex interaction of influences that can influence the judgements of an individual person under particular social circumstances. This is what explains the wide variety of patient reactions. From the medical standpoint, such unpredictable patient behaviour seems irrational. The patient perspective on the meaning of their actions is a hiatus in our knowledge, which is hampering the planning of effective interventions. Too few studies have sought the perspective of patients by asking them why they acted as they did. Thus, the wide spectrum of patient response in these situations in relation to personality, life experience and social context cannot be studied without interpretive field studies that include interview of patients with qualitative interpretation. (Intern Med J 2001; 31: 184–187)
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Keywords: delay; non-compliance; patient decision; reassurance

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Centre for the Study of Clinical Practice, St Vincent’s Hospital and 2: School of Public Health, LaTrobe University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Publication date: 2001-04-01

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