Patient-centredness is a core value of general practice; it is defined as the interpersonal processes that support the holistic care of individuals. To date, efforts to demonstrate their relationship to patient outcomes have been disappointing, whilst some studies suggest values may be more rhetoric than reality. Contextual issues influence the quality of patient-centred consultations, impacting on outcomes. The legitimate use of knowledge, or evidence, is a defining aspect of modern practice, and has implications for patient-centredness.
Based on a critical review of the literature, on my own empirical research, and on reflections from my clinical practice, I critique current models of the use of knowledge in supporting individualised care. Evidence-Based Medicine (EBM), and its implementation within health policy as Scientific Bureaucratic Medicine (SBM), define best evidence in terms of an epistemological emphasis on scientific knowledge over clinical experience. It provides objective knowledge of disease, including quantitative estimates of the certainty of that knowledge. Whilst arguably appropriate for secondary care, involving episodic care of selected populations referred in for specialist diagnosis and treatment of disease, application to general practice can be questioned given the complex, dynamic and uncertain nature of much of the illness that is treated.
I propose that general practice is better described by a model of Interpretive Medicine (IM): the critical, thoughtful, professional use of an appropriate range of knowledges in the dynamic, shared exploration and interpretation of individual illness experience, in order to support the creative capacity of individuals in maintaining their daily lives. Whilst the generation of interpreted knowledge is an essential part of daily general practice, the profession does not have an adequate framework by which this activity can be externally judged to have been done well. Drawing on theory related to the recognition of quality in interpretation and knowledge generation within the qualitative research field, I propose a framework by which to evaluate the quality of knowledge generated within generalist, interpretive clinical practice. I describe three priorities for research in developing this model further, which will strengthen and preserve core elements of the discipline of general practice, and thus promote and support the health needs of the public.