No Clinical Reasoning Without Me – It’s Time to Put the Client’s Perspective in the Forefront

by Maria Elvén

Generally, clinical reasoning refers to a health professional’s thinking and decision-making process. It guides practical actions, implying a process limited to the cognitive activities of health professionals. In more elaborated definitions of clinical reasoning, we may also find concepts such as collaboration and context. These imply a broader view of the reasoning process where the client and situational factors also come into play. The number of definitions of clinical reasoning are innumerable. Variations within and between different professional disciplines are equally as many. There is no established singular definition of the nature, relevant components or boundaries of a health professional’s clinical reasoning. The co-existence of multiple definitions leads to a plethora of variation in clinicians’ view(s) of clinical reasoning. These variations in turn influence their consistent and uniform application of reasoning in practice.

My name is Maria Elvén, I’m a lecturer and researcher in physiotherapy. In my PhD-work, focusing on clinical reasoning in physiotherapy, clinical reasoning was studied from a biopsychosocial and person-centred perspective. As such, clinical reasoning in relation to health and illness are dependent on biomedical, psychological and social aspects. Accordingly, to be in ‘good health’ represents different realities for different individuals. This variation emphasizes the need to grasp the persons’ individual perceptions. We must understand their own definitions of health and life situation in tandem, with their mental and bodily status from a health care perspective in the clinical reasoning process. Person-centredness, e.g., that the clinician considers the unique needs and specific health concerns of the person, and treats the individual as competent to make decisions about their own care, is a way to empower clients to take an active part in the clinical reasoning process.

Let’s pause here and reflect! Based on your view/definition of clinical reasoning, what is the goal of the clinical reasoning process? A correct diagnostic decision? A well-performed analytical thought process? A well-founded treatment decision? A satisfied clinician? A satisfied client? 

If I ask myself these questions, the ultimate goal of effective clinical reasoning is that the client achieves their own goal(s) related to their current health problem. To be able to reach this goal, the clinical reasoning process cannot be confined to the mind of the clinician, the process needs to be articulated and shared with the client. To make full use of the client as an active partner in the clinical process, shared treatment decisions are not sufficient. The client needs to be aided in supporting their role as an important  contributor to the analysis of the problem as well. This process also involves selecting and prioritizing among various treatments and management strategies that fit their actual life situation, as well as continuously evaluate their effectiveness.

We have covered a lot of ground surrounding the clinician’s inner process. The next step is to look beyond the cognitive processes of the clinician and to further elaborate on what meaningful client participation and involvement implies in the reasoning process. As suggested in my definition of clinical reasoning in physiotherapy, clinical reasoning is a process performed in partnership between the client and the clinician; ultimately stressing their shared responsibilities and equal values (Elvén, 2019). Performance of such reasoning may need training and competence development for clinicians to be able to support clients in their role as clinical reasoning partners.  

That brings us to where we are today and what I am hoping to bring into the DID-ACT project. In the DID-ACT project, the client perspective in clinical reasoning is clearly in focus. This is done by the inclusion of learning objectives related to client participation and shared decision-making. These learning objectives will influence learning activities and assessments in the forthcoming clinical reasoning curriculum development. The aim is that the client-perspective will play an increasingly important role in the learning and teaching of clinical reasoning in this project. 

I’m looking forward to contributing to a strengthened role for the client or patient in general health care, and, more specifically, clinical reasoning and I hope you’ll join me!

Elvén, M. (2019) Clinical reasoning focused on clients’ behaviour change in physiotherapy: Development and evaluation of the Reasoning 4 Change instrument. Doctoral dissertation. Mälardalen University. Västerås.