The reconfiguration of expertise in oncology: The practice of prediction and articulation of indeterminacy in medical consultations

Sage Publications Ltd
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Qualitative Health Research, 2010, 20 (10), pp. 1433 - 1445
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Evidence-based medicine has enhanced the predictive capacity of biomedicine in population terms, but it has also introduced new challenges for patient care and biomedical expertise. In this article we examine the negotiation of prediction and indeterminacy by oncology clinicians, exploring the ways in which they report delivering prognosis and engaging with indeterminacy in conversation with their patients. We examine oncologists strategies for delivering news, the technological mediation of uncertainty, and reported conversational turns toward a focus on indeterminacy and individual response. Drawing from these accounts, we argue that, although predictive capacity remains central to oncological expertise, notions of individualism, subjectivity, and self-determination are being heavily drawn on by clinicians. Rather than presenting a challenge, such ideas might be becoming increasingly central to oncological expertise. Interviews with cancer nurses illustrate their precarious relationship with evidence, uncovering tensions in their approach to patients and in their attempts to traverse diverse paradigms of care. We argue for an understanding of oncological expertise as evolving within the context of potentially competing contemporary cultural shifts, and against a simplistic notion of indeterminacy as necessarily eroding expertise.
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