Judging whether a patient is actually improving: more pitfalls from the science of human perception

J Gen Intern Med. 2012 Sep;27(9):1195-9. doi: 10.1007/s11606-012-2097-2. Epub 2012 May 17.


Fallible human judgment may lead clinicians to make mistakes when assessing whether a patient is improving following treatment. This article provides a narrative review of selected studies in psychology that describe errors that potentially apply when a physician assesses a patient's response to treatment. Comprehension may be distorted by subjective preconceptions (lack of double blinding). Recall may fail through memory lapses (unwanted forgetfulness) and tacit assumptions (automatic imputation). Evaluations may be further compromised due to the effects of random chance (regression to the mean). Expression may be swayed by unjustified overconfidence following conformist groupthink (group polarization). An awareness of these five pitfalls may help clinicians avoid some errors in medical care when determining whether a patient is improving.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Humans
  • Judgment*
  • Patient Care / methods
  • Patient Care / trends*
  • Perception
  • Physician-Patient Relations*