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Linking diagnostic errors to heuristics

When people go to see their doctors in Belleville, they do so feeling fairly confident that by the time they leave, they will know exactly what it is that is ailing them. Yet diagnostic errors have proven to be a serious problem plaguing the healthcare industry. Many might wonder just how serious the problem actually is. According to information shared by the American Association of Retired Persons, only 12 percent of patients are correctly diagnosed initially by their primary care providers. 

Medical science continues to make great strides, yet even with the advances seen in recent years, diagnostic medicine still presents its fair share of challenges. Often, doctors will rely on best practices or industry trends when forming a diagnosis. Such trends are referred to as heuristics, and while they do have their place in healthcare, their improper application can contribute to diagnostic errors. 

The trouble with heuristics in healthcare is that doctors may allow them to override the clinical indicators seen in their patients and thus bias their opinions. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reports that common clinical errors related to heuristics include: 

  • Doctors relying too heavily on their initial impressions 
  • Doctors allowing a patient’s demographics (or other external factors) to influence their opinions 
  • Doctors placing too much emphasis on expert opinion 
  • Doctors allowing recently observed trends in their patient populations to point them to a diagnosis 

One might wonder how it can be proven that their misdiagnosis might have been due to relying too heavily on heuristics. A review of their clinical documentation might provide the answers. Comments where a doctor’s opinions seem to contradict the results of a patient’s diagnostic tests many serve as an indication that they are allowing their decisions to be driven by something other than a patient’s current symptoms.