Understanding laboratory testing in diagnostic uncertainty: a qualitative study in general practice

Trudy van der Weijden, Marloes A van Bokhoven, Geert-Jan Dinant, Cathelijne M van Hasselt, Richard P T M Grol
British Journal of General Practice 2002, 52 (485): 974-80

BACKGROUND: Better knowledge of the professional's motives for ordering laboratory tests in the case of diagnostic uncertainty may lead to interventions directed at reducing unnecessary testing.

AIM: To gain insight into the general practitioner's (GP's) motives for ordering laboratory tests for patients presenting with unexplained complaints.

DESIGN OF STUDY: Semi-structured interviews based on surgery observations.

SETTING: Twenty-one general practices in rural and urban areas of The Netherlands.

METHOD: Investigation of the GP's perception of determinants of test-ordering behaviour in the situation of diagnostic uncertainty. The interviews were structured by evaluating the consultations and test-ordering performance of that day.

RESULTS: Dutch GPs vary considerably in their motives for ordering tests. Numerous motives emerged from the data. Some examples of important themes include: personal routines; tolerance of diagnostic uncertainty; time pressure; and tactical motives for test ordering. Complying with the perceived needs of the patient for reassurance through testing is seen as an easy, cost- and time-effective strategy. A clear hierarchy in the determinants was not found.

CONCLUSION: The decision to request laboratory testing is the result of a complex interaction of considerations that are often conflicting. Designers of interventions meant to improve the ordering of tests should be aware of the numerous determinants, and take contextual variables into account.

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