Embracing the certainty of uncertainty

When you see medicine portrayed in the movies or on television, you pretty much know that the solution to any medical mystery will come in an hour or even less. The guy in the lab will have an amazing breakthrough, or some stray conversation will spark a thought in the mind of a doctor, who will then come up with a diagnosis no one had even considered.

But that’s not how life works. Medicine and science, like every other field, are rife with uncertainty. This can cause problems for doctors who want to know how to cure a disease or a family who wants to understand why no one can figure out why their loved one is in pain. The bigger problem, however, is not embracing the reality of uncertainty, according to Andrew J.E. Seely from the University of Ottawa.

Seely is the author of “Embracing the Certainty of Uncertainty: Implications for Health Care and Research,” an essay which appeared in the journal Perspectives in Biology and Medicine earlier this year. In the article, he examines “the thesis that acknowledging and affirming the ‘certainty of uncertainty’ has the potential to improve health-care practice, health-care management, physician-patient communication, basic science, and clinical research for patients.”

Seely joined us for the latest installment in our podcast series to discuss his article and the real-world implications of embracing uncertainty.