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Knowing patients and knowledge about patients: Evidence of modes of reasoning in the consultation?

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Carl May


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Background. The idea that the patient is in some way known to the doctor is an important one in general practice. The thrust towards patient-centred medicine, the promotion of open and negotiative consultation skills and the development of a biopsychosocial model of primary care medicine all rely on the patient providing a history composed of more than a list of facts. Objective. Our aim was to explore the nature and importance of doctors' knowledge about patients. Methods. Fifteen GPs audio-recorded 25-30 consultations with consecutive consenting patients. They scored each consultation according to how satisfying they found it. Semi-structured interviews based on a selection of consultations were conducted to draw out the doctor's views on the factors that were important to their satisfaction. The interviews were transcribed verbatim. Qualitative analysis was inductive and iterative. Results. Within doctors' narratives, we found accounts of two ways of 'knowing' the patient. The first was a deductive mode of reasoning derived from facts about the patient. The facts that were known were specific to the context of the general practice consultation and led to biomedical and biographical knowledge. The second was an inductive mode of reasoning derived from a contextual interpretation of the facts about the patient which resulted in knowledge of their behaviour and cognitions. Both modes of reasoning gave the doctor knowledge of the patient and permitted action by the doctor in the consultation but led to different interpretations of the patient and different experiences of the consultation. Conclusion. 'Knowing the patient' is important to the way GPs attribute meaning to their work. Doctors were more likely to identify as 'known' those patients with whom they adopted an inductive mode of reasoning. In addition, their experience of the consultation was more likely to be positive.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Fairhurst K, May C

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Family Practice

Year: 2001

Volume: 18

Issue: 5

Pages: 501-505

Print publication date: 01/01/2001

ISSN (print): 0263-2136

ISSN (electronic): 1460-2229

Publisher: Oxford University Press


DOI: 10.1093/fampra/18.5.501

PubMed id: 11604371


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