12 tips for managing diagnostic uncertainty

Some take-home messages from the available evidence

Diagnostic uncertainty is inherent in general practice, yet research consistently shows it can be a powerful source of stress for doctors.

Patients rarely present with perfect textbook symptoms that can be readily classified into a neat diagnosis.

Often, there are no straight answers, no clear diagnosis and no obvious treatment.

But diagnostic uncertainty can have a marked impact on patient outcomes, the primary care doctor and the wider healthcare system.

A recent study shows that GPs respond to uncertainty by increased hospital referrals and ordering more diagnostic tests

GPs who cope well with uncertainty are more likely to practise shared decision-making.

So 6minutes has done a lightning-quick review of the available research — including some good advice from the RACGP — and come up with a few take-home messages for managing diagnostic uncertainty.