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Doctors may be too focused on common diseases

Doctors can and do make mistakes for a multitude of reasons, both during treatment and when simply making a diagnosis for a sick patient. These diagnostic errors, it has been found, can sometimes be attributed to focusing on notable and yet unrelated issues.

These are called salient distracting features, or SDFs. They have strong connections to particular disorders and diseases, which may be more popular or common than the true issue. Doctors can make mistakes when their attention is absorbed by these SDFs and they assume that the most common disease must be the problem.

Two examples

For instance, say a patient has lost a notable amount of weight. A doctor knows that weight loss is often connected to cancer. The patient actually does not have cancer, but has been sick for another reason and has lost weight simply because they changed their diet and exercise routine. A doctor who doesn’t ask enough questions about the patient’s habits could assume that the weight loss is a cancer symptom since that’s so common, but it’s not in this case.

Or, perhaps a patient has lung cancer. They complain of serious chest pain. Since the patient is an overweight, 60-year-old man, the doctor assumes it’s a heart attack since chest pain is one of the most common male symptoms. They may waste time treating or investigating heart disease when the real issue — lung cancer — goes undetected. This type of delay can be fatal.

If you have suffered harm due to a doctor’s error, you may be able to seek financial compensation. An experienced attorney can help you.

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