Improving patient care. The cognitive psychology of missed diagnoses

Ann Intern Med. 2005 Jan 18;142(2):115-20. doi: 10.7326/0003-4819-142-2-200501180-00010.


Cognitive psychology is the science that examines how people reason, formulate judgments, and make decisions. This case involves a patient given a diagnosis of pharyngitis, whose ultimate diagnosis of osteomyelitis was missed through a series of cognitive shortcuts. These errors include the availability heuristic (in which people judge likelihood by how easily examples spring to mind), the anchoring heuristic (in which people stick with initial impressions), framing effects (in which people make different decisions depending on how information is presented), blind obedience (in which people stop thinking when confronted with authority), and premature closure (in which several alternatives are not pursued). Rather than trying to completely eliminate cognitive shortcuts (which often serve clinicians well), becoming aware of common errors might lead to sustained improvement in patient care.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Cognition*
  • Decision Making
  • Diagnostic Errors / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Osteomyelitis / diagnosis*
  • Osteomyelitis / drug therapy
  • Patient Care / psychology*
  • Pharyngitis / diagnosis*