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Doctor experience does not always prevent medical errors

A professor at the University of Pennsylvania has noted that experience in and of itself does mean the doctor is less prone to error. Doctors often rely on anecdotal evidence concerning what has worked in the past, but such physicians have not always kept up with what is current in the medical field.

For example, doctors will often prescribe antibiotics for a certain illness based on past experience where the patient has gotten better after taking the antibiotic. However, the patient's recovery may have little to nothing to do with the antibiotic - they may have already been getting better when the antibiotic was prescribed. Doctors nevertheless may prescribe such medications with little to go on than their own subjective "experience" - and thus be at risk for medication errors.

Unfortunately, doctors are often prone to specific biases, and such biases are often reinforced over time. How such bias is demonstrated may include:

  • Anchoring bias: Doctors deciding early upon a diagnosis, and being reluctant to discard it when the treatment turns out to be ineffective
  • Availability bias: Doctors feeling one patient is suffering from the same conditions for which another patient was recently treated
  • Confirmation bias: Doctors buying into evidence that supports their prognosis, and disregarding any evidence demonstrating that their prognosis may be wrong.
  • Commission bias: Doctors providing a particular treatment on the mistaken assumption that actively doing something is better than waiting and seeing what happens next

Doctors need to keep up with modern technology, and such treating physicians must also allow for their assumptions to be challenged. It would be better that such assumptions be challenged early before a medical mistake is made than later by an attorney in court during a medical malpractice claim.

A doctor's experience should be an asset in treating a patient rather than a hindrance.

Source: CNN, "The 'July effect': Why experienced doctors may not deliver the best care," by Dr. Zachary F. Meisel and Dr. Jesse M. Pines, July 17, 2012

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