Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

GPs´ decision-making - perceiving the patient as a person or a disease

Malin André123*, Annika Andén24, Lars Borgquist2 and Carl Edvard Rudebeck56

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Clinical Research, Falun, Sweden

2 Department of Medicine and Health Sciences, Family Medicine, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden

3 Department of Public Health and Caring Sciences – Family Medicine and Preventive Medicine, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden

4 Bergnäsets Vårdcentral, Luleå, Sweden

5 Institute of Community Medicine, University of Tromsø, Tromsø, Norway

6 Research Unit of Kalmar County Council, Kalmar, Sweden

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BMC Family Practice 2012, 13:38  doi:10.1186/1471-2296-13-38

Published: 16 May 2012



The aim of this study was to analyse the clinical decision making strategies of GPs with regard to the whole range of problems encountered in everyday work.


A prospective questionnaire study was carried through, where 16 General practitioners in Sweden registered consecutively 378 problems in 366 patients.


68.3% of the problems were registered as somatic, 5.8% as psychosocial and 25.9% as both somatic and psychosocial. When the problem was characterised as somatic the main emphasis was most often on the symptoms only, and when the problem was psychosocial main emphasis was given to the person. Immediate, inductive, decision-making contrary to gradual, analytical, was used for about half of the problems. Immediate decision-making was less often used when problems were registered as both somatic and psychosocial and focus was on both the symptoms and the person. When immediate decision-making was used the GPs were significantly more often certain of their identification of the problem and significantly more satisfied with their consultation. Rules of thumb in consultations registered as somatic with emphasis on symptoms only did not include any reference to the individual patient. In consultations registered as psychosocial with emphasis on the person, rules of thumb often included reference to the patient as a known person.


The decision-making (immediate or gradual) registered by the GPs seemed to have been adjusted on the symptom or on the patient as a person. Our results indicate that the GPs seem to recognise immediately both problems and persons, hence the quintessence of the expert skill of the GP as developed through experience.