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Keywords:

  • decision making;
  • classification;
  • clinical reasoning;
  • judgement;
  • nursing health care;
  • multidisciplinary collaboration;
  • medicine

Classifying clinical decision making: a unifying approach

This is the first of two linked papers exploring decision making in nursing which integrate research evidence from different clinical and academic disciplines. Currently there are many decision-making theories, each with their own distinctive concepts and terminology, and there is a tendency for separate disciplines to view their own decision-making processes as unique. Identifying good nursing decisions and where improvements can be made is therefore problematic, and this can undermine clinical and organizational effectiveness, as well as nurses’ professional status. Within the unifying framework of psychological classification, the overall aim of the two papers is to clarify and compare terms, concepts and processes identified in a diversity of decision-making theories, and to demonstrate their underlying similarities. It is argued that the range of explanations used across disciplines can usefully be re-conceptualized as classification behaviour. This paper explores problems arising from multiple theories of decision making being applied to separate clinical disciplines. Attention is given to detrimental effects on nursing practice within the context of multidisciplinary health-care organizations and the changing role of nurses. The different theories are outlined and difficulties in applying them to nursing decisions highlighted. An alternative approach based on a general model of classification is then presented in detail to introduce its terminology and the unifying framework for interpreting all types of decisions. The classification model is used to provide the context for relating alternative philosophical approaches and to define decision-making activities common to all clinical domains. This may benefit nurses by improving multidisciplinary collaboration and weakening clinical elitism.