There’s lots of talk about physician bias. Confirmation bias, attribution error, etc. Jerry Groopman’s How Doctors Think provides a great primer on how patterns of physician thinking impact care.
Unfortunately there’s less talk about patient bias. Google ‘patient bias’ and you’ll find only links to physician bias.
Patients bring their own biases to the exam room. Parents have an action bias, for example. As a tertiary specialist facing children with chronic complaints, parents are prone to doing things. They are suggestible. Tests and movement of any kind are seen as a step forwad. Classically this parental action bias is supported by a system that rewards doing things to patients. Providers of action are often perceived as concerned and willing to get to the bottom of things. When this tendency towards action is driven by health providers Groopman calls this commission bias.
But understanding this mindset in a surrogate (parent) is key to advocating for the patient (or child, in my case).
I spend more time helping parents understand what doesn’t need to be done rather than thinking about all that could be done. I don’t receive a penny more for doing more.
Socially intelligent clinicians understand the biases at work within their patients and work toward a diagnostic and therapeutic approach that benefits those under their care. This subject needs discussion and research. As patients become more active participants in their own care we need to recognize the patterns and traps brought by the patient to the exam room.
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