Tolerance of uncertainty: A systematic review of health and healthcare-related outcomes.

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Publication Date



Center for Outcomes and Research, Maine Medical Center Research Institute, Palliative Care

Journal Title

Patient education and counseling

MeSH Headings

Delivery of Health Care, Health, Health Personnel, Health Workforce, Humans, Outcome Assessment, Health Care, Uncertainty


BACKGROUND: Uncertainty tolerance (UT) is thought to be a characteristic of individuals that influences various outcomes related to health, healthcare, and healthcare education. We undertook a systematic literature review to evaluate the state of the evidence on UT and its relationship to these outcomes.

METHODS: We conducted electronic and bibliographic searches to identify relevant studies examining associations between UT and health, healthcare, or healthcare education outcomes. We used standardized tools to assess methodological quality and analyzed the major findings of existing studies, which we organized and classified by theme.

RESULTS: Searches yielded 542 potentially relevant articles, of which 67 met inclusion criteria. Existing studies were heterogeneous in focus, setting, and measurement approach, were largely cross-sectional in design, and overall methodological quality was low. UT was associated with various trainee-centered, provider-centered, and patient-centered outcomes which were cognitive, emotional, and behavioral in nature. UT was most consistently associated with emotional well-being.

CONCLUSIONS: Uncertainty tolerance is associated with several important trainee-, provider-, and patient-centered outcomes in healthcare and healthcare education. However, low methodological quality, study design limitations, and heterogeneity in the measurement of UT limit strong inferences about its effects, and addressing these problems is a critical need for future research.



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