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Time: A Hive Mind of Doctors Can Mean Better Care for Patients

From Time: If you’re like an unlucky 5% of American adults, you’ll visit a doctor with a medical complaint this year, only to be misdiagnosed and, often, misprescribed a treatment. If you’re like a far less lucky one of 100,000 hospitalized Americans, such a misdiagnosis will cost you your life. There are a lot of reasons for medical errors: inexperienced caregivers; ambiguous symptoms; understaffed hospitals, underlying conditions. But according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), there’s one more little-considered cause: doctors working alone—often with too little opportunity to think and rethink the case. By increasing the number of physicians weighing in on a case, doctors can significantly increase the likelihood of an accurate diagnosis and a favorable result, according to a team of researchers led by Damon Centola, professor and director of the Network Dynamics Group at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication. “We are increasingly recognizing that clinical decision-making should be viewed as a team effort that includes multiple clinicians and the patient as well,” said co-author Dr. Elaine Khoong, of the University of California, San Francisco, and the San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, in a statement accompanying the release of the study. Medical collaboration is hardly a new thing. As Centola points out, many hospitals, especially ones in lower-income areas, rely on “e-consult technologies,” in which a clinician sends a message to an outside specialist for a second opinion on a case, with results usually taking 24 to 72 hours to come back. But two minds, Centola and his collaborators theorized, are less effective than a hive mind—and they set out to prove that idea.

A meeting of the minds

Recruiting a subject group of 2,941 physicians, the authors divided them into a sample group of 2,053 and a control group of 888. All of the subjects were drawn from one of three specialties: internal medicine, emergency medicine, and cardiology. All of them too were presented with case studies of real-life patients who had presented with illnesses known to have high rates of diagnostic error: acute cardiac events, geriatric care, low back pain, and diabetes-related cardiovascular illness prevention. Then they were set to work diagnosing the cases and prescribing a treatment—a process that was divided into three steps, which both groups conducted in different ways. Read more at Time.

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