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What’s behind the white coat: Potential mechanisms of physician-attributable variation in critical care

PLOS ONE May 16, 2019

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BACKGROUND: Critical care intensity is known to vary across regions and centers, yet the mechanisms remain unidentified. Physician behaviors have been implicated in the variability of intensive care near the end of life, but physician characteristics that may underlie this association have not been determined.

PURPOSE: We sought to identify behavioral attributes that vary among intensivists to generate hypotheses for mechanisms of intensivist-attributable variation in critical care delivery.

METHODS: We administered a questionnaire to intensivists who participated in a prior cohort study in which intensivists made prognostic estimates. We evaluated the degree to which scores on six attribute measures varied across intensivists. Measures were selected for their relevance to preference-sensitive critical care: a modified End-of-Life Preferences (EOLP) scale, Life Orientation Test–Revised (LOT-R), Jefferson Scale of Empathy (JSE), Physicians’ Reactions to Uncertainty (PRU) scale, Collett-Lester Fear of Death (CLFOD) scale, and a test of omission bias. We conducted regression analyses assessing relationships between intensivists’ attribute scores and their prognostic accuracy, as physicians’ prognostic accuracy may influence preference-sensitive decisions.

RESULTS: 20 of 25 eligible intensivists (80%) completed the questionnaire. Intensivists’ scores on the EOLP, LOT-R, PRU, CLFOD, and omission bias measures varied considerably, while their responses on the JSE scale did not. There were no consistent associations between attribute scores and prognostic accuracy.

CONCLUSIONS: Intensivists vary in feasibly measurable attributes relevant to preference-sensitive critical care delivery. These attributes represent candidates for future research aimed at identifying mechanisms of clinician-attributable variation in critical care and developing effective interventions to reduce undue variation.


Otto Haas Charitable Trust
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute