Unanswered Questions

I’ve been reading a couple of research articles about unanswered (or unanswerable) questions that arise during physicians’ treatment of patients. I’ll address them in separate posts.

Here’s a link to a classical music piece while we ponder this issue: Charles Ives’ The Unanswered Question

Norlin C; Sharp AL; Firth SD: Unanswered questions prompted during pediatric primary care visits. Ambul Pediatr 2007 Sep/Oct; 7(5): 396-400. PMID 17870649

This article was featured in AHRQ Research Activities, which reported that Pediatricians often do not pursue answers to questions that arise during medical visits. (Research Activities 2008 Mar; 331: 7.)

The article examines types and frequency of questions that arise during office visits by children with or without special health care needs; whether the pediatrician intends to pursue an answer; and how often he or she follows through on pursing answers.

I found the list of reasons for not intending to pursue an answer interesting; in addition to insufficient time and unimportance of the question, pediatricians indicated that they doubted the existence of relevant information, were uncertain where to look, did not have an appropriate resources, or did not trust the resource that was available.

The authors’ conclusions: that clinically relevant questions for which pediatricians do not have a ready answer arise during almost 20% of primary care visits, but answers are pursued for only a few. Lack of time and not knowing where to look are the primary reasons given for not pursuing answers.

I would be interested to know what resources the pediatricians had on hand, and particularly what they didn’t trust. I wonder, if a question is important and lack of time is an issue, what barriers prevent them from turning to a librarian?


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