A qualitative study on community pharmacists' decision-making process when making a diagnosis

Vassiliki Sinopoulou, Paul Summerfield, Paul Rutter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Rationale, aims, and objectives - Self‐care policies are increasingly directing patients to seek advice from community pharmacists. This means pharmacists need to have sound diagnostic decision‐making skills to enable them to recognise a variety of conditions. The aim of this study was to investigate the process by which pharmacists manage patient signs and symptoms and to explore their use of decision‐making for diagnostic purposes.

Methods - Data were collected through semi‐structured, face‐to‐face interviews with community pharmacists working in England, between August 2013 and November 2014. Pharmacists were asked to share their experiences on how they performed patient consultations, and more specifically how they would approach a hypothetical headache scenario. As part of the interview, their sources of knowledge and experience were also explored. Framework analysis was used to identify themes and subthemes.

- Eight interviews were conducted with pharmacists who had a wide range of working practice, from 1 year through to 40 years of experience. The pharmacists' main motivations during consultations were product selection and risk minimisation. Their questioning approach and decision‐making relied heavily on mnemonic methods. This led to poor quality information gathering—although pharmacists acknowledged they needed to “delve deeper” but were often unable to articulate how or why. Some pharmacists exhibited elements of clinical reasoning in their consultations, but this seemed, mostly, to be unconscious and subsequently applied inappropriately. Overall, pharmacists exhibited poor decision‐making ability, and often decisions were based on personal belief and experiences rather than evidence.

Conclusions - Community pharmacists relied heavily on mnemonic methods to manage patients' signs and symptoms with diagnosis‐based decision‐making being seldom employed. These findings suggest practicing pharmacists should receive more diagnostic training.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1482-1488
JournalJournal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice
Issue number6
Early online date8 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017
Externally publishedYes


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