Cold and flu symptoms are similar, so you may wonder how Cook County doctors know which illness you have. Medical training, experience and patient descriptions of how they feel help determine the answer. Do you think your diagnosis could be influenced, if 10 recently-examined patients all had colds?
A West Coast medical professor and cognitive psychologists agree physicians’ thinking patterns are not so different from other people. In general, individuals either think intuitively or analytically. The way your doctor thinks may mean the difference between an accurate diagnosis and a missed diagnosis, possibly a serious medical mistake.
Reports said misdiagnoses occur in 15 percent of all cases. Psychologists believe some diagnostic errors have to do with health care providers’ reliance on familiar answers. If Patients A, B and C have the flu, then Patient D with the same complaints of sore throat and fever is likely to have the flu.
Experts were careful to note intuitive thinking is not uncommon. We all base some choices on past solutions that have worked. Some professionals believe doctor errors would be reduced, if physicians consistently thought in an analytic way.
Thinking analytically takes time and effort. Intuitive thinking is often easier when you’re in a hurry. That would suit doctors with heavy patient loads and limited time for individual diagnosis and treatment.
Researchers also have learned doctor mistakes are more common for physicians who handle patients with a variety of symptoms. Doctors in family practice and emergency rooms are more likely to make errors than physicians in highly-specialized fields. Specialists diagnose and treat a more limited number of conditions than general practitioners.
Chicago doctors can’t stop being human, but they can cut down the diagnostic error rate by recognizing the biases they have. Experts contend that analytic thinking among medical professionals is preferable, even if it means spending a little more time with each patient.
Source: The Sacramento Bee, “Inside Medicine: 15 percent of the time, doctors’ diagnoses are off the mark” Michael Wilkes, M.D., Feb. 12, 2014