Uncertainty in clinical practice - An interview study with Swedish GPS on patients with sore throat

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Background: Uncertainty is inevitable in clinical practice in primary care and tolerance for uncertainty and concern for bad outcomes has been shown to vary between physicians. Uncertainty is a factor for inappropriate antibiotic prescribing. Evidence-based guidelines as well as near-patient tests are suggested tools to decrease uncertainty in the management of patients with respiratory tract infections. The aim of this paper was to describe strategies for coping with uncertainty in patients with pharyngotonsillitis in relation to guidelines. Methods: An interview study was conducted among a strategic sample of 25 general practitioners (GPS). Results: All GPS mentioned potential dangerous differential diagnoses and complications. Four strategies for coping with uncertainty were identified, one of which was compliant with guidelines, "Adherence to guidelines", and three were idiosyncratic: "Clinical picture and C-reactive protein (CRP)", "Expanded control", and "Unstructured". The residual uncertainty differed for the different strategies: in the strategy "Adherence to guidelines" and "Clinical picture and CRP" uncertainty was avoided, based either on adherence to guidelines or on the clinical picture and near-patient CRP; in the strategy "Expanded control" uncertainty was balanced based on expanded control; and in the strategy "Unstructured" uncertainty prevailed in spite of redundant examination and anamnesis. Conclusion: The majority of the GPS avoided uncertainty and deemed they had no problems. Their strategies either adhered to guidelines or comprised excessive use of tests. Thus use of guidelines as well as use of more near-patient tests seemed associated to reduced uncertainty, although the later strategy at the expense of compliance to guidelines. A few GPS did not manage to cope with uncertainty or had to put in excessive work to control uncertainty.


External organisations
  • Uppsala University
  • Linköping University
Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Social Sciences
  • Clinical Medicine


  • C-reactive protein, General practitioners, Guideline, Qualitative research, Sore throat, Uncertainty
Original languageEnglish
Article number56
JournalBMC Family Practice
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016 May 18
Publication categoryResearch