Pediatric clinician perspectives on communicating diagnostic uncertainty. Academic Article uri icon


  • OBJECTIVE: Diagnosis often evolves over time, involves uncertainty, and is vulnerable to errors. We examined pediatric clinicians' perspectives on communicating diagnostic uncertainty to patients' parents and how this occurs. DESIGN: We conducted semi-structured interviews, which were audiotaped, transcribed, and analyzed using content analysis. Two researchers independently coded transcripts and then discussed discrepancies to reach consensus. SETTING: A purposive sample of pediatric clinicians at two large academic medical institutions in Texas. PARTICIPANTS: Twenty pediatric clinicians participated: 18 physicians, 2 nurse practitioners; 7 males, 13 females; 7 inpatient, 11 outpatient, and 2 practicing in mixed settings; with 0-16 years' experience post-residency. INTERVENTION(S): None. MAIN OUTCOME MEASURE(S): Pediatric clinician perspectives on communication of diagnostic uncertainty. RESULTS: Pediatric clinicians commonly experienced diagnostic uncertainty and most were comfortable seeking help and discussing with colleagues. However, when communicating uncertainty to parents, clinicians used multiple considerations to adjust the degree to which they communicated. Considerations included parent characteristics (education, socioeconomic status, emotional response, and culture) and strength of parent-clinician relationships. Communication content included setting expectations, explaining the diagnostic process, discussing most relevant differentials, and providing reassurance. Responses to certain parent characteristics, however, were variable. For example, some clinicians were more open to discussing diagnostic uncertainty with more educated parents- others were less. CONCLUSIONS: While pediatric clinicians are comfortable discussing diagnostic uncertainty with colleagues, how they communicate uncertainty to parents appears variable. Parent characteristics and parent-clinician relationships affect extent of communication and content discussed. Development and implementation of optimal strategies for managing and communicating diagnostic uncertainty can improve the diagnostic process.

published proceedings

  • Int J Qual Health Care

altmetric score

  • 7.3

author list (cited authors)

  • Meyer, A., Giardina, T. D., Khanna, A., Bhise, V., Singhal, G. R., Street, R. L., & Singh, H.

citation count

  • 12

complete list of authors

  • Meyer, Ashley ND||Giardina, Traber D||Khanna, Arushi||Bhise, Viraj||Singhal, Geeta R||Street, Richard L||Singh, Hardeep

publication date

  • November 2019