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Doctors Overestimate Ability to Make Right Diagnosis

Tendency to underappreciate likelihood of error reinforced by current medical system

WEDNESDAY, April 30 (HealthDay News) -- Physicians have a tendency to underappreciate the scope to make wrong diagnoses and are overconfident in their diagnostic decisions, according to an article published in a supplement to the May issue of The American Journal of Medicine.

Eta S. Berner, of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and colleagues conducted a literature review and found that educational approaches to reduce diagnostic error are seldom used in practice, and automated methods of checking diagnostic accuracy are underused because physicians tend to be overly confident in their own diagnostic abilities.

The majority of diagnostic errors occur, not when a physician is uncertain of his or her diagnosis, because in this situation they are more likely to seek specialty expertise, the authors write. Rather, it is more likely to occur when physicians are certain, such as cases that appear to be routine and similar to previous cases.

"Physicians may simply stop thinking about the case predisposing them to all of the pitfalls that result from our cognitive 'dispositions to respond.' They fail to consider other contexts or other diagnostic possibilities and they fail to recognize the many inherent shortcomings that derive from heuristic thinking," the authors write. "Improving patient safety will ultimately require strategies that take into account the data from this review."

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