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Doctor biases may result in misdiagnoses

Some doctors in New Mexico and throughout the country may be misdiagnosing patients due to unconscious assumptions. These assumptions might be based on signals such as race, class or gender. Experts say that failure to examine those biases will lead to continued misdiagnoses even after patients die as a result.

One study found that in psychiatric medicine, patients with relationship difficulties often received antidepressant medication even if they did not show symptoms of depression. In other studies, black patients have been diagnosed with schizophrenia twice as much as white patients, while white patients have a higher tendency to receive diagnoses of anxiety and depression.

In a study published in Perspectives on Medical Education, researchers presented cases to students for diagnosis. They did not mention biases at all in this initial stage. In the next phase, students were told whether they misdiagnosed those patients and what the consequences were. In some of the cases, the patient had also been misdiagnosed by real doctors and died as a result. While this upset participants, it did not seem to cut down on their misdiagnoses. However, when researchers specifically told participants to be aware of their biases, misdiagnoses finally went down.

Even when a misdiagnosis does not result in a patient's death, it can have serious consequences. A patient might receive the wrong medication or treatment for months or years. A chronic disease might worsen due to lack of treatment, or a patient could suffer side effects from unneeded treatment. A misdiagnosis might lead to a delay in treatment that could result in a longer, more expensive or more difficult course of treatment. Patients who have been harmed in such a manner may want to meet with an attorney to see if the filing of a medical malpractice lawsuit would be advisable.

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