STUDY QUESTION: What are clinicians' views about the diagnosis of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and how do they handle any complexities and uncertainties in practice?
SUMMARY ANSWER: Clinicians have to navigate many areas of complexity and uncertainty regarding the diagnosis of PCOS, related to the diagnostic criteria, limitations in current evidence and misconceptions surrounding diagnosis, and expressed concern about the risk and consequences of both under- and overdiagnosis.
WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: PCOS is a complex, heterogeneous condition with many areas of uncertainty, raising concerns about both underdiagnosis and overdiagnosis. Quantitative studies with clinicians have found considerable variation in diagnostic criteria used and care provided, as well as a lack of awareness around the breadth of PCOS features and poor uptake of recommended screening for metabolic complications. Clinicians' views about the uncertainties and complexities of diagnosing PCOS have not been explored.
STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: Semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted with clinicians from September 2017 to July 2018 to explore their perceptions about the diagnosis of PCOS, including how they handle any complexities and uncertainties in practice.
PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: A group of 36 clinicians (15 general practitioners, 10 gynaecologists and 11 endocrinologists) currently practicing in Australia, were recruited through advertising via professional organisations, contacting a random sample of endocrine and gynaecology teams across Australia and snowballing. Transcribed audio-recordings were analysed thematically using Framework analysis.
MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: Clinicians expressed a range of uncertainties and complexities regarding the diagnosis of PCOS, which were organised into three areas: (i) establishing diagnosis (e.g. lack of standardisation regarding diagnostic cut-offs, risk of misdiagnosis), (ii) factors influencing the diagnostic process (e.g. awareness of limitations in evidence and consideration of the benefits and harms) and (iii) strategies for handling challenges and uncertainties (e.g. using caution and communication of uncertainties). Clinicians also varied in their concerns regarding under- and overdiagnosis. Overall, most felt the diagnosis was beneficial for women provided that it was the correct diagnosis and time was taken to assess patient expectations and dispel misconceptions, particularly concerning fertility.
LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: There is possible selection bias, as clinicians who are more knowledgeable about PCOS may have been more likely to participate. Clinicians' views may also differ in other countries.
WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: These findings underscore the vital need to first consider PCOS a diagnosis of exclusion and use caution before giving a diagnosis in order to reduce misdiagnosis, as suggested by clinicians in our study. Until there is greater standardisation of diagnostic criteria, more transparent conversations with women may help them understand the uncertainties surrounding the criteria and limitations in the evidence. Additionally, clinicians emphasised the importance of education and reassurance to minimise the potential harmful impact of the diagnosis and improve patient-centred outcomes.
STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S): The study was funded by the University of Sydney Lifespan Research Network and an NHMRC Program Grant (APP1113532). T.C. is supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program (RTP) Scholarship and a Sydney Medical School Foundation Scholarship, from the The University of Sydney, Australia. B.W.M. reports consultancy for ObsEva, Merck, Merck KGaA and Guerbet. No further competing interests exist.
TRIAL REGISTRATION NUMBER: N/A.