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February 4, 1983

Uses of Clinical Algorithms

JAMA. 1983;249(5):627-632. doi:10.1001/jama.1983.03330290049028

The clinical algorithm (flow chart) is a text format that is specially suited for representing a sequence of clinical decisions, for teaching clinical decision making, and for guiding patient care. A representative clinical algorithm is described in detail; five steps for writing an algorithm and seven steps for writing a set of algorithms are outlined. Five clinical education and patient care uses of algorithms are then discussed, including a map for teaching clinical decision making and protocol charts for guiding step-by-step care of specific problems. Clinical algorithms are compared as to their clinical usefulness with decision analysis. Three objections to clinical algorithms are answered, including the one that they restrict thinking. It is concluded that methods should be sought for writing clinical algorithms that represent expert consensus. A clinical algorithm could then be written for any area of medical decision making that can be standardized. Medical practice could then be taught more effectively, monitored accurately, and understood better.

(JAMA 1983;249:627-632)