Family Practitioners' Diagnostic Decision-Making Processes Regarding Patients with Respiratory Tract Infections: An Observational Study

2008 | conference paper. A publication of Göttingen

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​Family Practitioners' Diagnostic Decision-Making Processes Regarding Patients with Respiratory Tract Infections: An Observational Study​
Fischer, T.; Fischer, S.; Himmel, W. ; Kochen, M. M.   & Hummers-Pradier, E. ​ (2008)
Medical Decision Making28(6) pp. 810​-818. ​25th Annual Meeting of the Society-for-Medical-Decision-Making​, Chicago, IL.
Thousand oaks​: Sage Publications Inc. DOI: 

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Fischer, Thomas; Fischer, Susanne; Himmel, Wolfgang ; Kochen, Michael M. ; Hummers-Pradier, Eva 
Background. The influence of patient characteristics on family practitioners' (FPs') diagnostic decision making has mainly been investigated using indirect methods such as vignettes or questionnaires. Direct observation-borrowed from social and cultural anthropology-may be an alternative method for describing FPs' real-life behavior and may help in gaining insight into how FPs diagnose respiratory tract infections, which are frequent in primary care. Objective. To clarify FPs' diagnostic processes when treating patients suffering from symptoms of respiratory tract infection. Methods. This direct observation study was performed in 30 family practices using a checklist for patient complaints, history taking, physical examination, and diagnoses. The influence of patients' symptoms and complaints on the FPs' physical examination and diagnosis was calculated by logistic regression analyses. Dummy variables based on combinations of symptoms and complaints were constructed and tested against saturated (full) and backward regression models. Results. In total, 273 patients (median age 37 years, 51% women) were included. The median number of symptoms described was 4 per patient, and most information was provided at the patients' own initiative. Multiple logistic regression analysis showed a strong association between patients' complaints and the physical examination. Frequent diagnoses were upper respiratory tract infection (URTI)/common cold (43%), bronchitis (26%), sinusitis (12%), and tonsillitis (11%). There were no significant statistical differences between "simple heuristic'' models and saturated regression models in the diagnoses of bronchitis, sinusitis, and tonsillitis, indicating that simple heuristics are probably used by the FPs, whereas "URTI/common cold'' was better explained by the full model. Conclusion. FPs tended to make their diagnosis based on a few patient symptoms and a limited physical examination. Simple heuristic models were almost as powerful in explaining most diagnoses as saturated models. Direct observation allowed for the study of decision making under real conditions, yielding both quantitative data and "qualitative'' information about the FPs' performance. It is important for investigators to be aware of the specific disadvantages of the method (e. g., a possible observer effect).
Issue Date
Sage Publications Inc
Medical Decision Making 
Institut für Allgemeinmedizin 
25th Annual Meeting of the Society-for-Medical-Decision-Making
Conference Place
Chicago, IL



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