Recognizing the link between heuristics and misdiagnoses

Recognizing the link between heuristics and misdiagnoses

| Aug 6, 2020 | Medical Malpractice

Like most people in Russell, you likely afford a good deal of respect to your doctor due to their extensive education, training and experience. Yet this respect should not overshadow the fact that despite their in-depth knowledge, clinicians may be susceptible to the same judgment errors as any average person. 

Still, many come to us here at Frye & Troxler PSCquestioning how it is that their doctors could have been so wrong with their diagnoses. If you share the same question, then it is important that you understand the impact that heuristics have in healthcare.

What are heuristics?

Simply put, heuristics are those general “rules of thumb” or best practices recognized by any professional industry. Their purpose is to drive decision-making, and in healthcare, they can help your doctor in formulating your care plan. However, they can also lead to problems that might ultimately result in a misdiagnosis. 

How is this possible? According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, strict adherence to heuristics can be problematic in the following scenarios: 

  • When your doctor allows their initial diagnostic opinion to determine your diagnosis 
  • When your doctor allows external influences (such as your demographic information) to influence their decision-making 
  • When recency bias (as in whatever recent trends your doctor recognizes) clouds their judgment 
  • When your doctor relies too heavily on expert opinion 

Recognizing when heuristics result in harm

If you are not a clinician, how are you to recognize situations where relying on heuristics resulted in a misdiagnosis? A simple review of your medical records may uncover clues. Any instance where your doctor goes away from basing your diagnosis on clinical observation tests may indicate where heuristics may have had an impact on your case. 

You can find more information on recognizing the causes of misdiagnoses here on our site.