“Passing out is a serious thing”: Patient expectations for syncope evaluation and management

Jessica Miller Clouser, Matthew Sirrine, Colleen A. McMullen, Amy M. Cowley, Susan S. Smyth, Vedant Gupta, Mark V. Williams, Jing Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Purpose: Syncope is a complex symptom requiring thoughtful evaluation. The ACC/AHA/ HRS published syncope management guidelines in 2017. Effective guideline implementation hinges on overcoming multilevel barriers, including providers’ perceptions that patients prefer aggressive diagnostic testing when presenting to the emergency department (ED) with syncope, which conflicts with the 2017 Guideline on Syncope. To better understand this perceived barrier, we explored patient and family caregiver expectations and preferences when presenting to the ED with syncope. Patients and Methods: We conducted semi-structured focus groups (N=12) and in-depth interviews (N=19) with patients presenting to the ED with syncope as well as with their family caregivers. Interviews were recorded, transcribed verbatim, and analyzed by a team of researchers following a directed content analysis. Results were reviewed and shared itera- tively with all team members to confirm mutual understanding and agreement. Results: Syncope patients and caregivers discussed three main desires when presenting to the ED with syncope: 1) clarity regarding their diagnosis,; 2) context surrounding their care plan and diagnostic approach; and 3) to feel seen, heard and cared about by their health care team. Conclusion: Clinicians have cited patient preferences for aggressive diagnostic testing as a barrier to adhering to the 2017 Guideline on Syncope, which recommends against routine administration of imaging testing (eg, echocardiograms). Our results suggest that while participants preferred diagnostic testing as a means to achieve clarity and even a feeling of being cared for, other strategies, such as a patient-engaged approach to communication and shared decision-making, may address the spectrum of patient expectations when presenting to the ED with syncope while adhering to guideline recommendations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1213-1223
Number of pages11
JournalPatient Preference and Adherence
StatePublished - 2021


  • Implementation science
  • Patients
  • Statements and guidelines


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