Tools to manage medical uncertainty

Amit K. Ghosh, Shashank Joshi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background and aims: Despite an explosion of evidence-based guidelines, many decisions in clinical practice remain shrouded in uncertainty. Physicians could view ambiguous situations as a source of threat. Uncertainty results from personal lack of knowledge, limits of current medical knowledge and the inability to distinguish between the two. The purpose of this review is to study the prevalence, effects and management of medical uncertainty in clinical practice. Methods: PubMed search for articles on prevalence and management of medical uncertainty. Results and conclusion: Intolerance to uncertainty among physicians may result in increased test-ordering tendencies, failure to comply with evidence-based guidelines, guide career choices, and result in decreased comfort with geriatric, chronic illness and psychological problems. Factors causing variability of disease management includes: patient factors(inappropriate prioritization, risk aversion, expectations), physicians factors(lack of knowledge, intolerance to medical uncertainty, limited resources, time constraints), biological variability of patient, health system factors, patients comorbidities, technological and media influences contributing further to unrealistic expectations. Physicians’ perceptions of uncertainty in their daily work vary considerably. Urologist and orthopedic surgeons reported less uncertainty in their daily routine compared to psychiatrists, family practitioners and general internists. Effective methods of managing uncertainty include, consensus building among physicians from 3 or more specialties regarding patients problem, building trust between patients, their physicians and health care systems, thoughtful evaluation with exclusion of worrisome diagnosis, apply evidence-based information with effective risk communication, negotiating management strategies with patient and establishing regular follow-up with personalized feedback. (– 245 words).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1529-1533
Number of pages5
JournalDiabetes and Metabolic Syndrome: Clinical Research and Reviews
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2020


  • Managing uncertainty
  • Medical uncertainty
  • Physician

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine
  • Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism


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