Objective. To compare how parents and physicians value potential clinical outcomes in young children who have a fever but no focus of bacterial infection.
Methods. Cross-sectional study of 100 parents of well children aged 3 to 24 months, 61 parents of febrile children aged 3 to 24 months, and 56 attending staff physicians working in a children's hospital emergency department. A pretested visual analog scale was used to assess values on a 0-to-1 scale (where 0 is the value of the worst possible outcome, and 1 is the value for the best) for 22 scenarios, grouped in three categories according to severity. Based on the three or four common attributes comprising the scenarios in a given group, each respondent's value function was estimated statistically based on multiattribute utility theory.
Results. For outcomes in group 1 (rapidly resolving viral infection with one or more diagnostic tests), no significant group differences were observed. For outcomes in groups 2 (acute infections without long-term sequelae) and 3 (long-term sequelae of urinary tract infection or bacterial meningitis), parents of well children and parents of febrile children had values that were similar to each other but significantly lower than physicians' values for pneumonia with delayed diagnosis, false-positive diagnosis of urinary tract infection, viral meningitis, and unilateral hearing loss. For bacterial meningitis with or without delay, however, the reverse pattern was observed; physicians' values were lower than parents'. In arriving at their judgment for group 2 and 3 scenarios, parents gave significantly greater weight to attributes involving the pain and discomfort of diagnostic tests and to diagnostic error, whereas physicians gave significantly greater weight to attributes involving both short- and long-term morbidity and long-term worry and inconvenience. Parents were significantly more likely to be risk-seeking in the way they weighted the attributes comprising group 2 and 3 scenarios than physicians, ie, they were more willing to risk rare but severe morbidity to avoid the short-term adverse effects of testing.
Conclusions. Parents and physicians show fundamental value differences concerning diagnostic testing, diagnostic error, and short- and long-term morbidity; these differences have important implications for diagnostic decision making in the young febrile child.
- Received August 19, 1993.
- Accepted October 12, 1993.
- Copyright © 1994 by the American Academy of Pediatrics