The value of clinical judgement analysis for improving the quality of doctors’ prescribing decisions


: Petra Denig, Department of Clinical Pharmacology, A. Deusinglaan 1, 9713 AV Groningen, the Netherlands. Tel.: 00 31 50 36 33 205/2810; Fax: 00 31 50 36 32 812; E-mail:


Background  Many initiatives are taken to improve prescribing decisions. Educational strategies for doctors have been effective in at least 50% of cases. Some reflection on one's own performance seems to be a common feature of the most effective strategies. So far, such reflections have mainly focused on the observed outcomes of the doctors' decisions, i.e. on what doctors do in practice. Studies in other fields have shown that another form of feedback based on the analysis of judgements may be useful as well.

Objectives  The objectives of the study were to discuss the principles underlying clinical judgement analysis, give examples of its use in the medical context, and discuss its potential for improving prescribing decisions.

Results Clinical judgement analysis can look behind the outcome of a decision to the underlying decision process. Carefully constructed or selected case material is required for this analysis. Combining feedback on outcomes with feedback based on clinical judgement analysis offers doctors insight both in what they do, and why or when they do it. It may reveal determinants of decision making which are not available through unaided introspection. Interventions using this combination of feedback for improving doctors' prescribing behaviour have been (partly) successful in 4 cases and unsuccessful in one case.

Conclusions  Clinical judgement analysis gives doctors a structured reflection on the decision-making policy, and can help them to improve their future decisions. It may be especially useful for groups of doctors who try to work towards a consensus policy. The approach is not very helpful when simple decision rules are appropriate.