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Can bias increase the risk of medical malpractice?

People trust their doctors and other healthcare professionals to make the right decisions for their health. However, these professionals are human and are prone to making the same mistakes as everyone else. Fortunately, those in the medical field receive a lot of training to avoid errors, but they can still happen.

Medical malpractice refers to the act of a medical professional causing harm to a patient because of negligence. Can bias among doctors increase the risk of medical malpractice?

Patient factors

Some doctors let bias against certain groups of people affect their level of care. For example, a doctor may simply tell an overweight or obese patient to lose weight, without performing the proper tests to determine the root cause of their symptoms. In addition, it is well-documented that Black women are sometimes taken less seriously than their white or male peers when it comes to their medical concerns.

Cognitive biases

In addition to having certain biases about different demographic groups, healthcare professionals may also experience cognitive biases. Some examples of these include:

  • Left digit bias, which happens when, for example, a patient whose lab result says 4.9mg/dl does not receive treatment when someone whose result says 5.0mg/dl does receive treatment
  • Confirmation bias, which occurs when, as an example, a doctor gives a diagnosis of a cold simply because it is cold season, without considering other possible illnesses
  • Availability bias, which happens when doctors only consider the information in their recent memory rather than considering everything

These biases can all lead to unintentional errors in healthcare.

Knowing how bias can affect healthcare allows patients to better speak up for themselves.