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Keywords:

  • epistemic authority;
  • expertise;
  • genetic testing;
  • nurses;
  • physicians

BARNOY S, OFRA L and BAR-TAL Y. Nursing Inquiry 2012; 19: 128–133 [Epub ahead of print]

What makes patients perceive their health care worker as an epistemic authority?

Health care workers’ (HCW) perceived epistemic authority (EA) may have an effect on patient decision-making and compliance. The present study investigated the hypotheses that higher EA is attributed to staff perceived to be experts; to physicians rather than nurses; to HCWs who recommend taking a test more than to the ones who make no recommendation. The study was based on a factorial 2 × 2 × 2 within-between subjects design. The questionnaire presented four scenarios, each illustrating a HCW presenting information on a devastating genetic disease. The three variables manipulated were: HCW expertise, HCW role, and making a recommendation or not. After each scenario participants were asked questions about the EA they attributed to the HCW in the scenario. The results show main effects for perceived expertise and recommendation/no recommendation on the level of EA attributed. Expert nurses were judged to have the same high EA as expert physicians. But expert physicians who recommended taking a test were judged as having significantly higher EA than expert physicians who made no recommendation. Among nurses who made no recommendation, expert nurses were evaluated as having significantly higher EA than novices. Since expert nurses were perceived to have equal expertise as expert physicians, it follows that information given by both nurses and physicians can reduce patient uncertainty.