When heuristics cause harm

On Behalf of | Dec 13, 2019 | Personal Injury |

The doctors and surgeons working in Honolulu often get a great deal of respect from their patients. In many cases, they have earned that respect, having worked hard to acquire the knowledge and the skills needed to provide exceptional care. 

Yet a closer look at how clinicians operate may startle many of those who rely on their expertise and experience. It often comes as a surprise to learn that many of the same principles that guide everyday operations across industry sectors also drives the daily work of doctors. 

Heuristics in healthcare 

One of these principles is the adherence to industry best practices. Naturally, when practitioners in the field of medicine identify an effective plan of action, other professionals stick to it. In healthcare, these standards are often called heuristics. Yet while they help guide clinicians in their care, they can sometimes also cloud their judgment. 

In healthcare, such mistakes can prove to be fatal. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has identified potential scenarios where heuristics may lead doctors down a path that can lead to a misdiagnosis: 

  • Allowing recency bias to influence a diagnosis 
  • Relying too heavily on the initial diagnostic impressions 
  • Allowing a patient’s demographics to influence decision-making 
  • Relying too much on expert opinion 

Proving heuristic’s role in a misdiagnosis 

The trouble that many may have in trying to prove that strict adherence to heuristics had a hand in receiving a misdiagnosis is the same difficulty encountered by others pursuing malpractice claims: They are trying to make a case against doctors who know more about health care than they do. 

Overcoming this, however, many only require a simple review of a doctor’s notes. If it appears that the clinical indicators a patient presented did not support or even contradicted the diagnosis received, that may be a sign that the doctor ignored those symptoms and instead relied on his or her own impressions. The same is true of notes that may show the doctor citing multiple recent cases when determining a diagnosis.