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Examining biases to reduce rates of misdiagnosis


Researchers have tried to develop a workshop that reduces the possibility of bias regarding diagnostic practices. Medical professionals and patients in Oregon might be worried to learn that the study showed that health care providers will probably keep misdiagnosing patients because of the assumptions they make unless they examine biases.

People make cognitive biases or unconscious assumptions about others based on several factors such as appearances and mannerisms. These biases often appear as subtle observations about class, disability, gender, race and sexual orientation. However, they can affect how medical professionals diagnose physical and psychological illnesses and injuries. Researchers recognize biases as a factor that affects rates of misdiagnosis, particularly in the mental health field. One study found that African-Americans were twice as likely as Caucasians to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, and Caucasians were more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression.

A study published in the Perspectives on Medical Education shows that these biases are prevalent in objective diagnoses as well. Participants in the first stage of the study received no instruction to acknowledge their biases when diagnosing a set of experimental cases. Several misdiagnoses were the result. During the second stage, the researchers disclosed the results of the misdiagnoses. Despite being shaken, the participants still misdiagnosed their experimental cases. The researchers explicitly told the students to recognize their biases during the third stage, which is when fewer misdiagnoses were made. Since this study used experimental cases that did not involve interaction with real patients, it is unclear if the workshop process will reduce the rate of misdiagnoses in the real world by removing biases.

Misdiagnosed patients might have cases for medical malpractice if their health care providers were negligent. Since proving malpractice is often complex, the patients might want to have attorneys handle their cases while they focus on recovering.