A new ICH opinion piece: ‘More than words’ – Interpersonal communication, cognitive bias and diagnostic errors

A new ICH opinion piece: ‘More than words’ – Interpersonal communication, cognitive bias and diagnostic errors
Tuesday 13 July 2021

A new opinion piece, "‘More than words’ – Interpersonal communication, cognitive bias and diagnostic errors" in Patient Education and Counselling, discusses how communication and cognitive bias can affect diagnosis and patient safety.

Like our multidisciplinary research at the Institute for Communication in Health Care (ICH), the opinion piece is the outcome of a collaboration between patient advocate Maureen Williams, clinician Dr Carmel Crock OAM and linguist Dr Mary Dahm. It calls for a new era of patient-driven diagnostic error research that acknowledges the vital role of linguistics and health communication.

“There has been a lot of focus on how organisational communication and faulty thinking patterns, also known as cognitive biases, can influence diagnosis and diagnostic errors," explained Dr Dahm, ANU ICH Research Fellow. "Our opinion piece is new, in that it takes an important next step towards recognising the central role of interpersonal communication and patient involvement in the diagnostic process."

"We show that what is being said between clinicians and patients is an important factor in misdiagnosis that has been largely overlooked to date," she continued. "Interweaving Maureen's patient voice with clinical analysis and research evidence, we bring the linguistic analysis of interpersonal communication and research guided by patients to the forefront of diagnostic error and health communication research.”

Dr Carmel Crock OAM, Chair of the Board of the new Australian New Zealand Affiliate to the Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine, also hopes that the paper will raise the profile of patients and linguists working together to improve diagnosis.

"Collaboration is vital in the diagnostic process, just as collaboration between patients, researchers and clinicians is the way forward in understanding and preventing diagnostic errors in medicine," said Dr Crock.

Maureen Williams, patient advocate and member of the newly established ANU ICH Consumer Reference Group, hopes that this emerging recognition of the patient voice will lead to greater patient safety.

"The inclusion of the patient voice in the alliance of healthcare workers is a compelling argument for saving lives," said Williams. "Bias, attitude and language are significant factors in effective communication and their direct influence on patients is an important component in patient satisfaction and positive outcomes." 

The paper is available at Patient Education and Counselling or by contacting the lead author Dr Dahm directly at maria.dahm@anu.edu.au.


Updated:  13 July 2021/Responsible Officer:  Head of School/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications