How do heuristics impact healthcare?

| Apr 22, 2019 | Medical Malpractice |

The medical profession is unique in its impact on people’s lives. It is not completely unlike other professions in Vinton, however, in that doctors, surgeons and other providers often follow protocols when delivering treatment. Your job likely has certain rules that you follow in specific situations. The best practices are often set through experience or industry trends. These are commonly referred to as heuristics, and are employed in the medical profession as well. Yet as a patient, you certainly hope that your doctor is considering the unique circumstances of your case and not simply being guided by what current trends and tendencies tell them they should do.

It is recognized that heuristics do have a role in health care, yet clinicians are still expected to employ their own expertise in each individual case. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality consistently reviews the use of heuristics in healthcare to determine scenarios in which they can impact patient care. Their research reveals that such standards can often be applied improperly in the following scenarios: 

  • Doctors relying too heavily on past experiences when developing a diagnosis
  • Doctors remain affixed on an initial diagnostic impression
  • Doctors being influenced by collateral information (e.g., a patient’s demographics)
  • Doctors placing too much trust in expert opinion

Recognizing cases where heuristics may have played a role in a misdiagnosis or improper care requires that you be able to pinpoint where a doctor may have defaulted to them. When reviewing a medical record, language that seems to show a doctor ignoring the results of diagnostic tests and other clinical indicators in favor of their own impressions can be an indicator that their error arose from a reliance on heuristics.