Expert Bias in the Health Care System

In the memoir, Brain on Fire, the patient (and author) Susannah faces a crippling disease that eludes diagnosis and treatment. She sees all types of medical professionals, some are more condemned than others in her account. The interesting part was her reaction to the doctors diagnoses. Often the doctors were not diligent enough and did not follow standard operating procedure, but that is another issue entirely. She would tell each doctor a partial list of her symptoms and then the doctor would make a recommendation or diagnosis. These diagnosis (up to this point in the memoir) have all been wrong, some more obviously inaccurate than others. Given her extremely wide range of symptoms and the acute self awareness she portrays in her account, I was surprised that she accepted these diagnosis. It is so obvious that her problems are much deeper than Mononucleosis for example. In social psychology there is a phenomenon that people over trust authority/expert figures, solely based on the fact that they perceive them to be an authority or an expert. That bias seems to be in play here, although the symptoms clearly indicated something more or different than the preliminary diagnosis. Thus far the memoir has condemned our current health care system. I think that this bias is one of the chief problems. Doctors are incentivized to lean towards certain treatments and diagnoses. Large drug companies are gaining more and more control over the health care system. As lay persons, we rarely question what doctors recommend. We assume they are always correct, when in reality they are giving us educated guesses driven by the incentives provided to them by drug companies. I am intrigued to find out what happens in the latter two thirds of the books, but thus far I have been very disenchanted with our medical professionals.

One thought on “Expert Bias in the Health Care System

  1. I find this blog post interesting because it seems to bring up the notion of doctors’ attempts to cure rather than heal. Although scientifically, a doctor’s role is to cure a patient’s illness, social sciences such as psychology and sociology are becoming increasingly important in the medical field. I believe this is part of the reason why these two subjects are required for students to take before entering medical school. It is equally if not more important for a doctor to be able to communicate with and understand what a patient truly wants, than to focus solely on eliminating a patient’s disease. As this blog post explains, drug companies are gaining more control over the healthcare system, promoting a greater need for medicine that will simply cure individuals. However, I feel that medical professions such as psychology hospice, palliative care social work etc. are majorly important for the well-being of patients suffering from serious illness. Without knowledge from a psychological and sociological perspective, medicine becomes solely based on science–curing, and no emphasis is placed on helping a patient feel better. Although I don’t think this is really what this blog post is about, I feel it is a related and important subject that is prevalent in medicine today.


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