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A look at the persistent problem of medical misdiagnosis: Part 2

We alluded to the seemingly intractable problem of misdiagnosis in medical facilities across the United States in our immediately preceding blog post. In today's entry, we spotlight some of the catalysts that notably contribute to diagnostic error.

Here's an initial point to note on that subject: There are lots -- truly, lots -- of reasons why a wrong medical diagnosis results following a patient exam. A recent article notes some of the more prominent culprits that underlie wrong diagnostic calls.

Take so-called "gambler's fallacy," for example. A doctor might engage in that thought process to a patient's detriment when a consecutive stream of previously seen patients were all diagnosed with the same illness or condition. It's time for another diagnosis, right?

Well, maybe not.

And consider "diagnosis momentum," which is a known catalyst inducing error in many instances. If other doctors have all weighed in on a patient's condition with the same diagnostic conclusion, isn't it human nature -- even for a doctor -- to be influenced by that cumulative weight of opinion, even if it's wrong?

"Confirmation bias" is an interesting phenomenon that can ensnare doctors just as easily as it does persons in other professions. The above-cited article states that the risk for error spikes when doctors are "looking for evidence to support a diagnostic hunch rather than information to refute it."

And "availability" and "anchoring" are certainly readily understood factors that interact to promote error. If symptom quickly pop up that classically indicate a common cold, for example, the inclination to dig deeper can logically be dulled. What is familiar is often locked in on, which can exclude further -- and critically important -- evaluation.

A highly anticipated report on misdiagnosis is scheduled for release next month. We will tag it and be sure to pass along material details to our blog readers.

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