Valenzuela Law Firm, PA | Trial Attorney
Attorney Henry E. Valenzuela

Heuristics in healthcare

On Behalf of | May 21, 2022 | Medical Malpractice

One of the more common questions posed to team members here at the Valenzuela Law Firm, P.A. by clients following a medical misdiagnosis in Florida is how could doctors (with years of experience and modern clinical technologies supporting them) possibly misdiagnose them. An easy answer may be that such professionals are only human (and thus subject to the same shortcomings everyone is), yet such an answer may often hide potentially troubling practices.

Among these may be an overreliance on external sources. Every industry has its best practices, and those standards typically drive workflows. Yet while doctors should look to industry standards to guide their work, they also cannot set their own judgment aside.

What are heuristics?

Heuristics refer to those standard practices that guide workflow. However, should a practitioner lean on them too heavily, those practices may lead them astray. According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, this may happen in healthcare in the following ways:

  • Allowing recent cases and trends to bias their opinions
  • Relying too heavily on expert opinion
  • Permitting a patient’s demographics to influence decisions
  • Failing to deviate from an initial diagnostic impression

Each of these may ultimately contribute to a doctor misdiagnosing a patient.

How to spot an error due to heuristics?

People may justly feel concerned about spotting when an overreliance on heuristics led to their misdiagnosis (assuming that their lack of clinical knowledge might keep them from realizing this). However, reviewing one’s visit records could quickly reveal this. Any instance where the doctor’s opinions seem to contrast the results of one’s diagnostic testing may provide proof that heuristics had a hand in their suffering (and thus lay the foundation for a medical malpractice lawsuit).