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'Walking together': How relationships shape physicians' clinical reasoning.

Medical Education 2024 March 26
INTRODUCTION: The clinical reasoning literature has increasingly considered context as an important influence on physicians' thinking. Physicians' relationships with patients, and their ongoing efforts to maintain these relationships, are important influences on how clinical reasoning is contextualised. The authors sought to understand how physicians' relationships with patients shaped their clinical reasoning.

METHODS: Drawing from constructivist grounded theory, the authors conducted semi-structured interviews with primary care physicians. Participants were asked to reflect on recent challenging clinical experiences, and probing questions were used to explore how participants attended to or leveraged relationships in conjunction with their clinical reasoning. Using constant comparison, three investigators coded transcripts, organising the data into codes and conceptual categories. The research team drew from these codes and categories to develop theory about the phenomenon of interest.

RESULTS: The authors interviewed 15 primary care physicians with a range of experience in practice and identified patient agency as a central influence on participants' clinical reasoning. Participants drew from and managed relationships with patients while attending to patients' agency in three ways. First, participants described how contextualised illness constructions enabled them to individualise their approaches to diagnosis and management. Second, participants managed tensions between enacting their typical approaches to clinical problems and adapting their approaches to foster ongoing relationships with patients. Finally, participants attended to relationships with patients' caregivers, seeing these individuals' contributions as important influences on how their clinical reasoning could be enacted within patients' unique social contexts.

CONCLUSION: Clinical reasoning is influenced in important ways by physicians' efforts to both draw from, and maintain, their relationships with patients and patients' caregivers. Such efforts create tensions between their professional standards of care and their orientations toward patient-centredness. These influences of relationships on physicians' clinical reasoning have important implications for training and clinical practice.

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