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A review of clinical decision making: models and current research


  • Maggi Banning BSc, MSc EdD, PGDE, SRN, SCM

    1. Senior Lecturer in Advanced Clinical Practice, The School of Health Sciences and Social Care, Brunel University, UK
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Maggi Banning
Senior Lecturer in Advanced Clinical Practice
The School of Health Sciences and Social Care
Brunel University
Osterley Campus
Borough Road
Middlesex TW7 5DU, UK
Telephone: 018952 68819


Aims and objectives.  The aim of this paper was to review the current literature clinical decision-making models and the educational application of models to clinical practice. This was achieved by exploring the function and related research of the three available models of clinical decision making: information-processing model, the intuitive-humanist model and the clinical decision-making model.

Background.  Clinical decision making is a unique process that involves the interplay between knowledge of pre-existing pathological conditions, explicit patient information, nursing care and experiential learning. Historically, two models of clinical decision making are recognized from the literature; the information-processing model and the intuitive-humanist model. The usefulness and application of both models has been examined in relation the provision of nursing care and care related outcomes. More recently a third model of clinical decision making has been proposed. This new multidimensional model contains elements of the information-processing model but also examines patient specific elements that are necessary for cue and pattern recognition.

Design.  Literature review.

Methods.  Evaluation of the literature generated from MEDLINE, CINAHL, OVID, PUBMED and EBESCO systems and the Internet from 1980 to November 2005.

Results.  The characteristics of the three models of decision making were identified and the related research discussed.

Conclusions.  Three approaches to clinical decision making were identified, each having its own attributes and uses. The most recent addition to the clinical decision making is a theoretical, multidimensional model which was developed through an evaluation of current literature and the assessment of a limited number of research studies that focused on the clinical decision-making skills of inexperienced nurses in pseudoclinical settings. The components of this model and the relative merits to clinical practice are discussed.

Relevance to clinical practice.  It is proposed that clinical decision making improves as the nurse gains experience of nursing patients within a specific speciality and with experience, nurses gain a sense of saliency in relation to decision making. Experienced nurses may use all three forms of clinical decision making both independently and concurrently to solve nursing-related problems. It is suggested that O'Neill's clinical decision-making model could be tested by educators and experienced nurses to assess the efficacy of this hybrid approach to decision making.