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How healthcare heuristics may contribute to misdiagnoses

On Behalf of | Oct 26, 2021 | Medical Malpractice

Like most people in Texas, you likely put a good deal of trust in the doctors, surgeons and other healthcare professionals from whom you seek care. However, legitimate cases of medical malpractice exist, many originating from errors committed by clinicians themselves.

While such mistakes may come as a shock to you, ask many of our past clients here at Winckler & Harvey, L.L.P., and they will likely describe to you cases where they were obviously misdiagnosed. How, then, can medical professionals (with years of education and experience supporting them) make such errors?

Identifying the sources of misdiagnoses

Despite the unique complexities of their field, doctors are still subject to the same systemic problems inherent with any industry. Among these is an overreliance on heuristics. These are the general best practices observed within an industry. You might think that your doctor would want to follow established best practices when delivering care. While there is some truth to that assumption, relying primarily on heuristics in every scenario could be problematic.

How is this? The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality highlights the following four types of troublesome heuristics:

  • Anchoring heuristics: Relying too heavily on an initial diagnostic impression
  • Blind obedience: Placing too much emphasis on expert opinion
  • Availability heuristics: Forming opinions primarily based on recent experiences
  • Framing effects: Allowing collateral information to influence decision-making

In each of these scenarios, your doctor may allow the underlying heuristic to override any contrary clinical indicators you may present with.

Pinpointing diagnostic errors

How can you know if heuristics led your doctor to misdiagnose you? A review of your medical record may show scenarios where they fall into relying on them when your signs and symptoms may indicate something else.

You can find more information on identifying cases of medical malpractice throughout our site.