Common Flaws in Human Thinking Contribute to Medical Malpractice Incidents

Every minute of the day, your brain does work that we do not realize is happening. Choices are made all the time and thoughts are bounced around constantly, many of them subconsciously. To avoid mental exhaustion from all of these continual microtasks, your brain comes up with “mental shortcuts” or tricks to create rapid choices based on assumptions.

For the most part, mental shortcuts are incredibly useful. For example, you can instantly decide someone is friendly because they smile and nod at you when they walk by without having to dive deeply into a cognitive discourse about what you do and do not know about them. But when mental shortcuts are used by medical professionals, the result can be disastrous medical malpractice.

Preconceptions Create False Connections

Perhaps your brain’s favorite mental shortcut is the trick of using preconceptions to reach immediate conclusions, as touched upon in the aforementioned example. You take information you know from previous scenarios and apply it to new ones, even if there isn’t any solid connection between them.

Unfortunately, healthcare providers use preconceptions to reach biased confirmations and conclusions often. They assume that a patient showing symptoms XYZ must require similar treatment to their last patient who also had the same set of symptoms. Of course, we all understand that near-identical symptoms can manifest due to numerous health conditions, injuries, and diseases. The odds of both patients having an overlap of both symptoms and causes are relatively low, yet the preconception shortcut in thinking is used quite often. The result can be a dangerous misdiagnosis that leaves a patient in need of appropriate medical care.

Recent Events Leave Lingering Effects on the Mind

Another problematic mental shortcut is called “availability bias,” which essentially says people are persuaded to act differently in current events by what happened in recent events. Medical professionals usually exhibit subconscious availability bias when seeing new or returning patients after another patient with similar needs recently experienced negative side effects to treatment.

One example would be when doctors avoid a prescription medicine for Patient 2 because Patient 1 had a negative reaction to it. There might be nothing in Patient 2’s medical record that would suggest they would also be at risk of a hazardous side effect if they took the same prescription, but the doctor decides to use an alternative all the same. While this might seem like a safe line of thinking, it can actually constitute medical malpractice because the medical provider is not acting based on medical facts and sciences, but instead on their own arbitrary beliefs.

(For a furthered discussion on mental shortcuts and how they contribute to medical malpractice, you can click here to view a full article from the New York Times. Login and subscription may be required.)

Hurt by a doctor’s mistake in Cleveland? Spangenberg Shibley & Liber LLP can help you seek compensation through a medical malpractice claim. Call (216) 600-0114 to find out more.

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