What are “heuristics?”

Whenever you present for medical treatment in New York, you likely do so feeling confident that the provider treating is more than up to the task at identifying, diagnosing and treating your condition. Yet while the resulting care often justifies that confidence, the potential of suffering from a medical misdiagnosis is ever-present.

How is it that your doctor (after years of schooling and highly technical training) might make such an error? You should remember that for all their education and experience, doctors are still human, and thus subject to the same judgment errors as everyone else. One of those may be an overreliance on heuristics.

Heuristics in healthcare

The word “heuristics” describes the best practices (general “rules-of-thumb”) of any given industry. These patterns and practices develop over time and are typically passed on from practitioner to practitioner. The healthcare industry is no exception. Indeed, you might correctly assume that healthcare providers should follow them.

In many cases, that proves to be the case. However, whenever your doctor allows heuristics to overrule any contraindicating information, the result is often a misdiagnosis. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, common types of heuristics that contribute to misdiagnoses include:

  • Anchoring heuristics: Relying primarily on an initial diagnostic impression
  • Framing effects: Allowing external factors to influence decision-making
  • Blind obedience: Placing too much emphasis on expert opinion
  • Availability heuristics: Allowing recent cases to bias judgment

Is an overreliance on heuristics hard to spot?

However, how are you (with your limited knowledge of proper care procedures) if heuristics influenced your misdiagnosis? A thorough review of your medical record may reveal this task to be easier than you think. Throughout your doctor’s comments, you will likely see where your doctor potentially ignored clinical indicators in favor of sticking with their own opinions.

Skip to content