Epistemology and uncertainty in primary care: an exploratory study

Fam Med. 2009 May;41(5):319-26.


Background and objectives: Primary care is an endeavor marked by breadth, complexity, and more clinical uncertainty than all non-primary care specialties except psychiatry. This is significant, as uncertainty is associated with a variety of troublesome economic and clinical indicators. Researchers have identified the three types of cognitive resources needed to combat uncertainty (technical, personal, or conceptual), as well as the affective stress reactions physicians have when confronted with uncertainty. In this study, we explored the relationship between primary care physicians' stress reactions to uncertainty and the conceptual resource of epistemology.

Methods: Using Likert-type measures of epistemology and stress reactions to uncertainty, we conducted a cross-sectional survey with 78 board-certified and resident physicians in primary care. A simple bivariate regression analysis was performed to identify the relationship between epistemology and stress reactions to uncertainty (Model 1), and a multivariate regression analysis was performed to test for the independent effect of epistemology on stress reactions to uncertainty while controlling for gender, specialty, and professional development status (Model 2).

Results: Physician epistemology and stress reactions to uncertainty were significantly related in both models.

Conclusions: Among primary care physicians, a biopsychosocial epistemology is associated with less stress reactions to uncertainty, and a biomedical epistemology is associated with more stress reactions to uncertainty.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adult
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Family Practice
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internal Medicine
  • Internship and Residency
  • Knowledge*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Psychological
  • Pediatrics
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Stress, Psychological*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Uncertainty*