Background: The role of cognitive biases and heuristics in medical decision making is of growing interest. The purpose of this study was to determine whether studies on cognitive biases and heuristics in medical decision making are based on actual or hypothetical decisions and are conducted with populations that are representative of those who typically make the medical decision; to categorize the types of cognitive biases and heuristics found and whether they are found in patients or in medical personnel; and to critically review the studies based on standard methodological quality criteria.
Method: Data sources were original, peer-reviewed, empirical studies on cognitive biases and heuristics in medical decision making found in Ovid Medline, PsycINFO, and the CINAHL databases published in 1980-2013. Predefined exclusion criteria were used to identify 213 studies. During data extraction, information was collected on type of bias or heuristic studied, respondent population, decision type, study type (actual or hypothetical), study method, and study conclusion.
Results: Of the 213 studies analyzed, 164 (77%) were based on hypothetical vignettes, and 175 (82%) were conducted with representative populations. Nineteen types of cognitive biases and heuristics were found. Only 34% of studies (n = 73) investigated medical personnel, and 68% (n = 145) confirmed the presence of a bias or heuristic. Each methodological quality criterion was satisfied by more than 50% of the studies, except for sample size and validated instruments/questions. Limitations are that existing terms were used to inform search terms, and study inclusion criteria focused strictly on decision making.
Conclusions: Most of the studies on biases and heuristics in medical decision making are based on hypothetical vignettes, raising concerns about applicability of these findings to actual decision making. Biases and heuristics have been underinvestigated in medical personnel compared with patients.
Keywords: behavioral economics; biases; decision-making; heuristics.
© The Author(s) 2014.