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Ambul Pediatr. 2007 Sep-Oct;7(5):396-400.

Unanswered questions prompted during pediatric primary care visits.

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Department of Pediatrics, University of Utah Health Sciences Center, Salt Lake City, Utah 84132, USA.



To identify the frequency, types, and perceived importance of questions prompted during primary care visits for which pediatricians have no ready answer; to characterize pediatricians' responses to them; and to determine how questions prompted while caring for children with special health care needs (CSHCN) and children without special needs (Cw/oSN) differ.


Patient visits with 35 general pediatricians were observed. Parents completed a CSHCN screener. Physicians provided details about their unanswered questions and their pursuit of answers.


Of 890 observed visits, 170 (19.1%) prompted unanswered questions, of which 60.1% were deemed important or very important. Physicians intended to pursue answers to 49.7% of the questions but actually pursued answers for only 27.5%, citing lack of time and inadequate information resources as barriers. One hundred sixty-seven (18.8%) visits were with CSHCN. Unanswered questions arose more often with CSHCN than with Cw/oSN (28.7% vs 16.9%; odds ratio 1.98; 95% confidence interval, 1.32-2.97), particularly during well visits (34.6% vs 14.9%; odds ratio 3.24; 95% confidence interval, 1.59-6.39). CSHCN prompted more diagnosis and treatment questions than Cw/oSN. Questions prompted by CSHCN were ranked as more important but were no more likely to be pursued than those prompted by Cw/oSN.


Unanswered questions arise during nearly 20% of pediatric primary care visits. Visits with CSHCN, particularly well visits, generate more questions than those with Cw/oSN. Answers are pursued for few unanswered questions, both overall and for CSHCN. Potential strategies to overcome barriers to answering questions include scheduling more time or more visits for CSHCN.

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