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Bias can lead to medical malpractice

Doctors, like the rest of us, are not 100 percent objective. In fact, 12 million patients in this country were misdiagnosed because of bad judgment. Implicit bias was, according to research, involved in many claims for wrongful death or disability.

Judgment errors were responsible for 86 percent of the 55,377 medical claims involving wrongful death or disability, according to research from the director of the John Hopkins Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality's Center for Diagnostic Excellence. Bad judgment includes assorted gaps in knowledge, inattention and misinterpretation, along with implicit bias.

It is hard to measure implicit bias in a clinical situation and there is a lack of strong data. But this bias occurs when a well-meaning doctor's unconscious assumptions prevent objective assessment of a patient or gathering information.

It may include assumptions based upon the person's sex and race and other physical attributes or conditions. For example, patients suffering a stroke generally have a nine percent of a misdiagnosis in the emergency room. But patients in the 18-to-45 age group are seven times more likely than a 75-year-old to receive an incorrect diagnosis in this setting.

African Americans with severe depression are four to nine times more likely to receive a schizophrenia misdiagnosis compared to white Americans who have the same symptoms. This incorrect diagnosis can prevent a patient from receiving an antidepressant or mood stabilizer while they may also suffer the unnecessary effects from schizophrenia medications.

One researcher said that the medical system has a bias about women and that doctors are trained to identify symptoms that are presented by white men. Doctors may also fall back on blaming anxiety for symptoms shown by female patients.

Patients with mental illness are severely impacted by implicit assumptions. Doctors may concentrate on their mental health and miss a heart problem. Doctors have attributed complaints about abdominal pain to anxiety and depression without conducting testing.

Taking these types of shortcuts are suspected in other cases. For example, doctors may conclude that a patient's obesity is causing their back pain without exploring this problem further.

Families who suffer the loss of a loved one because of misdiagnosis or other medical negligence may be entitled to compensation. An attorney can help them pursue this right and file a timely lawsuit.

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