Confirmation bias is a type of cognitive bias in which we favor information that confirms our previously held beliefs or biases, ignore contrary information, and which impacts not only how we gather information but also influences how we interpret and recall information. Because we tend to seek information that confirms our existing beliefs, confirmation bias can prevent us from looking at situations objectively, can influence our decisions, and can result in making poor or outright wrong choices.
Prime examples of everyday confirmation bias may be observed by switching between Fox News (conservative views) and MSNBC (liberal views) to see how and what they impart and deliver as news stories based on the same news events. As another example, an investor who has a hunch regarding a particular stock he wants to invest in may disregard objective negative news about the company and place more reliance on a positive press release spun by the company.
Confirmation bias can arise in the medical field as well: for example, a nurse may enter Mrs. Smith’s hospital room and check the wrist band of the patient lying in Mrs. Smith’s bed and read the name on the wrist band as “Mrs. Smith,” even though the wrist band actually reads “Mrs. Jones,” because Mrs. Jones was inadvertently wheeled into the wrong hospital room. If the nurse gives Mrs. Jones the medications prescribed for “Mrs. Smith,” Mrs. Jones may suffer catastrophic injuries as a result.
A real-life example of confirmation bias occurred last November at Tufts Medical Center in Boston that allegedly led to the unnecessary and unexpected death of a patient. The 74-year-old patient had gone to the hospital for a short, routine surgical procedure intended to relieve her back pain. During the procedure, the neurosurgeon ordered a special dye (contrast agent) called Omnipaque that would be injected into her spine. The hospital’s operating room pharmacy did not have Omnipaque but handed the nurse vials of another dye, stating that Omnipaque was not stocked but the other dye was. The nurse handed the dye vials to the neurosurgeon, who reportedly read the vial label that specifically stated that it was not to be injected into the spine, yet the neurosurgeon injected the dye into the patient’s spine, twice. The patient died the following day due to the medication error.
The hospital administration alleged that the neurosurgeon did not notice the warning on the label on the vials but instead saw the name of the dye that he expected the label to say – the neurosurgeon was a victim of confirmation bias, which was fatal for his patient.
Despite the neurosurgeon’s admission to the patient’s sons shortly after the incident that he used the wrong dye during the surgery, the attorneys hired by the medical malpractice insurance company wrote to the sons eight months later, denying that the neurosurgeon and others were negligent or that their negligence harmed their mother.
If you or a loved one may be the victim of confirmation bias by a medical provider that caused injury, you should promptly seek the legal advice of a local medical malpractice attorney in your U.S. state who may investigate your medical negligence claim for you and represent you in a medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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