A social-technological epistemology of clinical decision-making as mediated by imaging

Sophie Jacobine van Baalen, Annamaria Carusi, Ian Sabroe, David G. Kiely

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In recent years there has been growing attention to the epistemology of clinical decision-making, but most studies have taken the individual physicians as the central object of analysis. In this paper we argue that knowing in current medical practice has an inherently social character and that imaging plays a mediating role in these practices. We have analyzed clinical decision-making within a medical expert team involved in diagnosis and treatment of patients with pulmonary hypertension (PH), a rare disease requiring multidisciplinary team involvement in diagnosis and management. Within our field study, we conducted observations, interviews, video tasks, and a panel discussion. Decision-making in the PH clinic involves combining evidence from heterogeneous sources into a cohesive framing of a patient, in which interpretations of the different sources can be made consistent with each other. Because pieces of evidence are generated by people with different expertise and interpretation and adjustments take place in interaction between different experts, we argue that this process is socially distributed. Multidisciplinary team meetings are an important place where information is shared, discussed, interpreted, and adjusted, allowing for a collective way of seeing and a shared language to be developed. We demonstrate this with an example of image processing in the PH service, an instance in which knowledge is distributed over multiple people who play a crucial role in generating an evaluation of right heart function. Finally, we argue that images fulfill a mediating role in distributed knowing in 3 ways: first, as enablers or tools in acquiring information; second, as communication facilitators; and third, as pervasively framing the epistemic domain. With this study of clinical decision-making in diagnosis and treatment of PH, we have shown that clinical decision-making is highly social and mediated by technologies. The epistemology of clinical decision-making needs to take social and technological mediation into account.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)949-958
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of evaluation in clinical practice
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2017


  • IR-102059
  • METIS-318848


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