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You often can’t control when you need to go to the hospital. If you can, however, healthcare experts may suggest you avoid going in July. July is when there are the most inexperienced doctors working in hospitals. The medical school graduates have started their internships and the experienced residents and fellows have moved out of training roles and have become self-managed doctors. The phenomenon is known as the “July Effect” and many fear that the quantity of inexperienced doctors in hospitals leads to more medical mistakes. There are definite benefits to having a highly experienced doctor, including proficiency in medical procedures and knowledge of the consequences of treatments. In fact, the number of procedures a doctor performs often increases the success of that procedure.

But Experience Does Not Necessarily Mean Better

Experienced doctors make mistakes too. They can rely too much on experience, a reliance that can cloud their judgment when providing patient care. The more years of experience a doctor has, can mean a greater susceptibility to cognitive biases. A cognitive bias is a judgment flaw developed by years of practicing the same way. The following are four cognitive biases that deceive experienced doctors:

  • Anchoring bias: A doctor makes a diagnosis early but when that diagnosis does not make sense, rather than admitting the misdiagnosis, he or she continues to believe and maybe even assumes the course of treatment helped cure the diagnosis.
  • Availability bias: A physician diagnoses a patient with the same condition as a patient he or she saw recently because they both exhibited similar symptoms.
  • Confirmation bias: A doctor diagnoses a patient on the symptoms but then ignores the medical evidence that contradicts the diagnosis.
  • Commission bias: A doctor orders a medical procedure or a medication for the sake of doing something, when watchful waiting is probably the best course of action.

These cognitive biases can result in misdiagnosis, medication errors and all types of medical mistakes; mistakes that can cause serious injuries and sometimes death.

Receiving the Best Care Possible

There are two very important things that a patient can do to receive the best medical care. The first thing is to ask a lot of questions. Patient questions force a doctor to think about why he or she is prescribing a certain course of action or making a specific diagnosis. The second thing is to be informed. A patient that does independent research on their medical condition is able to ask more questions about the treatment. Source: CNN, “The ‘July effect’: Why experienced doctors may not deliver the best care,” Zachary F. Meisel and Dr. Jesse M. Pines, July 17, 2012.