Coping with uncertainty in clinical practice: a narrative review

Med J Aust. 2023 May 15;218(9):418-425. doi: 10.5694/mja2.51925. Epub 2023 Apr 23.


Clinicians must make decisions amid the uncertainty that is ubiquitous to clinical practice. Uncertainty in clinical practice can assume many forms depending on its source, such as insufficient personal knowledge or scientific evidence, limited practical understanding or competence, challenging interpersonal relationships, and complexity and ambiguity in clinical encounters. The level and experience of uncertainty varies according to personal traits, clinical context, affective factors and sociocultural norms. Clinicians vary in their tolerance of uncertainty, and maladaptive responses may adversely affect patient care and clinician wellbeing. Various strategies can be used to minimise and manage, but not eliminate, uncertainty and to share uncertainty with patients without compromising the clinician-patient relationship or clinician credibility.

Keywords: Clinical decision-making; Doctors’ health; Physician-patient relations; Quality of health care.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Decision Making
  • Humans
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Uncertainty