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How are heuristics used in healthcare?

Do you feel like your doctor in Bowie gave you the wrong diagnosis? Questioning a medical professional’s opinion is never easy given that they likely may know more about medical science than you do. You, however, know your own body better than anyone else, and if your ailment is not improving after having seen (and received treatment from) a provider, the question of whether his or her diagnosis was wrong must be considered. 

Perhaps an even better question is how he or she came up with your diagnosis in the first place? Technology has not yet advanced to the point of allowing doctors a complete and comprehensive view of the inner workings of your body. Thus, they are left to go off of whatever symptoms you describe and/or diagnostic test results available to them. That information often prompts them towards a certain predetermined care plan (which often called a “heuristic”). 

Heuristics are protocols and procedures that help to drive and influence decision-making. The healthcare industry has relied on them for decades to help dictate patient care plans. While they may be helpful in pointing clinicians in the right direction towards diagnosing and treating your medical condition, doctors can also rely on them too much. 

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has compiled a list of those heuristics that can often be blamed for leading to misdiagnoses. These include: 

  • Doctors relying too much on current patient conditions
  • Doctors being influenced by outside information
  • Doctors putting too much emphasis on “expert” opinion
  • Doctors ignoring conflicting diagnostic test results and sticking with their initial diagnostic impressions

A review of your medical records may help reveal areas where a doctors relied too heavily on heuristics in your case. He or she may be liable for the errors that this misplaced reliance contributed to.