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The potential problems posed by heuristics in healthcare

News of people pursuing claims of medical malpractice against a clinician in New York is not uncommon. Even still, those who come to us here at The Pagan Law Firm, P.C. after suffering from a doctor or surgeon’s error typically express shock at such an event. This comes from the almost automatic respect bestowed on such professionals due to their extensive experience and education.

Most assume that combination will ensure that their providers will know exactly what to the when it comes to their treatment. Yet healthcare professionals find themselves subject to the same shortcomings as everyone else. That includes a tendency to fall back on perceived “best practices.”

Heuristics explained

At first glance, there may seem to be nothing wrong with allowing “best practices” to dictate care (indeed, one would even expect that a doctor consults them). A the same time, however, one should understand the uniqueness of every clinical case.

“Heuristics” describe the “best practices” within a certain industry. While the expectation should be that practitioners know of them, one should also recognize that they cannot always be strictly adhered to in every case. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, common healthcare errors related to heuristics include:

  • Providers allowing recency bias to impact their decisions
  • Providers sticking with an initial impression even when subsequent diagnostic testing contradicts it
  • Providers allowing a patient’s demographics to influence their opinions
  • Providers relying too heavily on so-called “experts” opinions

The basis for misdiagnosis

The real danger of an overreliance on heuristics in healthcare is the potential for them contributing to a misdiagnosis. A review of one’s medical record might show when this occurs, particularly when documentation indicates that a clinician went against what a patient’s symptoms or diagnostic procedures indicate when developing a diagnosis.