Rationale aims and objectives
The available evidence on the use of heuristics and their relationship with diagnostic error in primary care is very limited. The aim of the study is to identify the use of unknown thought and specifically the possible use of Representativeness, Availability and overconfidence heuristics in the clinical practice of primary care physicians in cases of dyspnoea and to analyse their possible relationship with diagnostic error.
A total of 371 patients consulting with new episodes of dyspnoea in Primary Care centres in Spain were registered. Based on specific operational definitions, the use of unconscious thinking and the use of heuristics during the diagnostic process were assessed. Subsequently, the association between their use and diagnostic error was analysed.
In 49.6% of cases, the confirmatory diagnosis coincided with the first diagnostic impression, suggesting the use of the representativeness heuristic in the diagnostic decision process. In 82.3% of the cases, the confirmatory diagnosis was among the three diagnostic hypotheses that were first identified by the general physicians, suggesting a possible use of the availability heuristic. In more than 50% of the cases, the physicians were overconfident in the certainty of their own diagnosis. Finally, a diagnostic error was identified in 9.9% of the recorded cases and no statistically significant correlation was found between the use of some unconscious thinking tools (such as the use of heuristics) and the diagnostic error.
Unconscious thinking manifested through the acceptance of the first diagnostic impression and the use of heuristics is commonly used by primary care physicians in the clinical decision process in the face of new episodes of dyspnoea; however, its influence on diagnostic error is not significant. The proposed explicit and reproducible methodology may inspire further studies to confirm these results.