Colorado Public Radio interviewed a woman who recently wrote a book about her experience with the medical community. What happened? She was wrongly diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. I’m sure you’re going how does that happen, but unfortunately doctors aren’t perfect. We should always remember they say that doctors “practice medicine”; it’s not a perfect science. Unfortunately the troubles are on both the doctor’s and the patient’s sides of the fence so we have to develop strategies to overcome these upsetting outcomes.
The new director of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Dr. Matthew Wynia, MD, MPH, talked about in the age of Google many patients are coming for medical care with their own diagnoses. On the flip side, Jerome Groopman, author of “Second Opinions”, and “How Doctors Think” shares that doctors have been trained to make a diagnosis in the first twenty second of their interaction with the patient.
Information is great, but too much information can be harmful. Wynia talked about a phenomenon called Anchoring Bias. Anchoring bias is when we lock our thoughts and decision around a particular fact or group of facts to the point that we become unable to hear any other opinions or possibilities.
Personally I have been guilty of self-diagnosis. I’ve taken all my symptoms, entered them in the computer and waited for the diagnosis. I know that it’s not definitive because I may be experiencing certain symptoms, but without further testing or exams I can only account for those I can see or feel. However, I can see where it would be comforting to walk in thinking you know what’s ailing you because the unknown is quite scary.
On the doctor’s end we also need to address anchoring bias. Doctors are trained to believe that A+B=C. Unfortunately, there are too many variables in the human body. Groopman recommends that after receiving a diagnosis asking the doctor, “If it weren’t X, what else might it be? What other organs are nearby that may influence your decision?” The key is dislodging the provider’s stronghold on the diagnosis they believe is 100% certain.
Unfortunately diagnostics are sometimes fluid. It’s important to remember that healthcare is a team effort. We, the patient, have to be forthright with our providers and the providers have to be willing to listen to the patient’s entire story. Detectives can’t solve cases without all the information and the same is true for medical diagnoses.
The one thing I encourage you to anchor to is the idea of optimal health. I had some major pulmonary issues earlier in the year. It would have been easy for the doctor, knowing I have an asthma diagnosis, to simply go with the pulmonary diagnosis. Instead, he ran a plethora of cardiac tests to rule out the possibility that cardiac issues didn’t spark my pulmonary issues. It was interesting because on my annual visit with my dermatologist I told him about the numerous cardiac tests I had and he was glad that my primary care physician expanded his sights beyond my obvious breathing issues, reinforcing my confidence in my doctor.
Be aware that we’re all subject to anchor bias, and not just in medical care. You’d be surprised how we can all be like a dog with a bone when it decreases our anxiety. Health and healing requires that we not look at healthcare as a one-way street. There are often many avenues to be explored and getting to the heart of the matter increases the accuracy of diagnoses!
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