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How is ambiguity impacting physicians?

When new patients arrive in our offices clinical ambiguity is often present. We don’t know the patient and haven’t had an opportunity to seek the answer to their complaint. This ambiguity is easily handled; it is what we do as physicians, day in and day out. The decision-making steps learned during training and our practice gives us comfort that we can provide clarity rather than ambiguity.

When ambiguity impacts us professionally, perhaps with career uncertainty from our health system’s mandates, or even external regulatory dictums impacting “best care” for our patients, ambiguity takes its toll. These imposed mandates or regulations often prevent us from delivering our vision of ideal patient care. Most of us went into medicine as idealists, and over time, when the pressures of ambiguity over optimum care becomes too burdensome, our idealism atrophies. It is replaced with frustration, burnout, and anger. If you feel your idealism weakening what do you do?

Physicians are as creative as any group of individuals and typically will find workarounds to minimize the ambiguity over ideal care. In spite of that creativity, sometimes we are stymied. When faced with that I found that honesty with my patients about my desire for the “ideal” went a long way to both minimize my frustration and as a side effect, build their trust. This reframing helped my own frustration and burnout. It makes us more vulnerable and authentic in our patient’s eyes; a therapeutic gain in its own right!

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