Original Research

Factors Affecting Surgical Decision-making—A Qualitative Study

Caroline Gunaratnam and Mark Bernstein


Background: Guidelines and Class 1 evidence are strong factors that help guide surgeons’ decision-making, but dilemmas exist in selecting the best surgical option, usually without the benefit of guidelines or Class 1 evidence. A few studies have discussed the variability of surgical treatment options that are currently available, but no study has examined surgeons’ views on the influential factors that encourage them to choose one surgical treatment over another. This study examines the influential factors and the thought process that encourage surgeons to make these decisions in such circumstances. Methods: Semi-structured face-to-face interviews were conducted with 32 senior consultant surgeons, surgical fellows, and senior surgical residents at the University of Toronto teaching hospitals. An e-mail was sent out for volunteers, and interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim, and subjected to thematic analysis using open and axial coding. Results: Broadly speaking there are five groups of factors affecting surgeons’ decision-making: medical condition, information, institutional, patient, and surgeon factors. When information factors such as guidelines and Class 1 evidence are lacking, the other four groups of factors—medical condition, institutional, patient, and surgeon factors (the last-mentioned likely being the most powerful)—play a significant role in guiding surgical decision-making. Conclusions: This study is the first qualitative study on surgeons’ perspectives on the influential factors that help them choose one surgical treatment option over another for their patients.

Rambam Maimonides Med J 2018;9(1):e0003