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Reducing the risk of misdiagnosis by challenging cognitive bias

Doctors with biased ways of processing and interpreting what they learn during their patient interactions are more likely to come up with the wrong diagnosis and treatment. Unfortunately, these thinking errors are rife in the medical profession. Even worse, most doctors probably are not aware that they have them.

According to the American Medical Association, researchers have identified common biases that cause medical errors, as well as ways doctors can reduce their own chances of falling victim to them.

Cognitive biases

First impressions are important, but focusing on confirming them with subsequent information rather than assessing the information with an open mind may indicate an anchoring bias. Similarly, a confirmation bias searches for information that confirms an opinion and ignores information that does not support it.

Not only do these practices lead to misdiagnosis, but they can also create a cascade effect. For example, other doctors see the diagnosis in the chart and continue to look for ways to confirm that it is correct rather than analyzing the symptoms present.

Awareness and education

To improve diagnostic processes and reduce the chances of medical errors, professionals have developed cognitive intervention strategies that help physicians recognize and avoid their biases. One method is to engage in a guided reflection intervention. This prompts the doctor to remain open to diagnoses beyond the first idea. It also encourages a willingness to reflect and reconsider conclusions and receive feedback or challenges from a mentor.

Including strategies for recognizing and overcoming biases in medical education is a critical step to lowering the rate of misdiagnosis in the U.S.