Using decision tree models to depict primary care physicians CRC screening decision heuristics

Sarah B. Wackerbarth, Yelena N. Tarasenko, Laurel A. Curtis, Jennifer M. Joyce, Steven A. Haist

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to identify decision heuristics utilized by primary care physicians in formulating colorectal cancer screening recommendations. DESIGN: Qualitative research using in-depth semi-structured interviews. PARTICIPANTS: We interviewed 66 primary care internists and family physicians evenly drawn from academic and community practices. A majority of physicians were male, and almost all were white, non-Hispanic. APPROACH: Three researchers independently reviewed each transcript to determine the physician's decision criteria and developed decision trees. Final trees were developed by consensus. The constant comparative methodology was used to define the categories. RESULTS: Physicians were found to use 1 of 4 heuristics ("age 50," "age 50, if family history, then earlier," "age 50, if family history, then screen at age 40," or "age 50, if family history, then adjust relative to reference case") for the timing recommendation and 5 heuristics ["fecal occult blood test" (FOBT), "colonoscopy, " "if not colonoscopy, then...," "FOBT and another test," and "a choice between options") for the type decision. No connection was found between timing and screening type heuristics. CONCLUSIONS: We found evidence of heuristic use. Further research is needed to determine the potential impact on quality of care.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1467-1469
Number of pages3
JournalJournal of General Internal Medicine
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2007


  • Clinical guidelines
  • Decision styles
  • Physician behavior
  • Preventive care
  • Qualitative methods

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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