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Heuristics in healthcare

| Aug 21, 2020 | Medical Malpractice

When clients come to see us here at Hensley Cloninger, P.C. after suffering due to a misdiagnosis by a doctor in Asheville, they typically all share the same question: how can a professional with so many years of education and experience in their field be so wrong with such a pivotal determination? 

If such a situation is fall too familiar to you, then you likely seek the same answer. Yet one important point to remember about medical professionals is that they are subject to same errors in judgment that everyone else is. The question then becomes when does such an error amount to negligence? 

An overreliance on heuristics 

Every industry employs best practices, or standards that most practitioners generally accept based of experience. Industry professionals refer to these as “heuristics,” and they do play a role in healthcare. You of course would want your doctor to not deviate too far from industry standards when delivering your care, yet an overreliance on heuristics can often lead to errors. 

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality points out the following common scenarios where heuristics often contribute to diagnostic errors: 

  • Doctors relying too heavily on expert opinion 
  • Doctors basing a diagnosis primarily on recently observed trends 
  • Doctors allowing a patient’s demographics to influence their opinions 
  • Doctors failing to let go of their initial diagnostic impressions 

Identifying when heuristics lead to a misdiagnosis

When used in conjunction with your diagnostic testing results (along with your description of your symptoms), heuristics can be valuable tools. Its when your doctor cites them as a reason to contradict what your symptoms and/or tests indicate that trouble occurs. A review of your medical record (specifically the doctor’s notes) may reveal when these incidents occur. 

You can learn more about identifying the source of diagnostic errors by continuing to explore our site. 

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