Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 144–149 | Cite as

Does physician uncertainty affect patient satisfaction?

  • Clifford G. Johnson
  • Jeffrey C. Levenkron
  • Anthony L. Suchman
  • Ralph Manchester
Original Articles


Physicians may choose one of several strategies when initially uncertain about making a specific therapeutic recommendation. The authors investigated how patients’ satisfaction is affected by disclosure of uncertainty and its attempted resolution during a clinical encounter. Three hundred and four patients awaiting appointments at a university hospital’s ambulatory medical clinic were randomized to view one of five videotapes (VTs) of a patient seeking advice about antimicrobial prophylaxis for a heart murmur. In VT-1 and VT-2, the physician disclosed no uncertainty and prescribed therapy. In VT-3, VT-4, and VT-5, the physician openly conveyed uncertainty but then: (VT-3) prescribed antibiotics without resolving his uncertainty; (VT-4) consulted a reference book with the patient present, then prescribed; or (VT-5) checked a computer with the patient present, then prescribed. Patients rated their satisfaction with the physician on a standardized questionnaire. Differences in satisfaction between the five VTs were significant (p=0.001), with the highest ratings found for VT-1 and VT-2, where no uncertainty was disclosed. The lowest ratings in satisfaction were found when the physician expressed but then ignored uncertainty (VT-3) or examined a textbook (VT-4). Global satisfaction was inversely and significantly correlated (r=−0.47) with the patients’ perception of uncertainty in the physician. The manner in which clinical uncertainty is disclosed to patients and then resolved by the physician appears to affect patients’ satisfaction.

Key words

patient satisfaction patient-physician interaction physician uncertainty 


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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Clifford G. Johnson
  • Jeffrey C. Levenkron
    • 1
  • Anthony L. Suchman
  • Ralph Manchester
  1. 1.Division of Behavioral and Psychosocial Medicine, Department of PsychiatryUniversity of Rochester Medical CenterRochester

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